SEATTLE - The sudden drop of historic job losses at the hands of the pandemic began about four months ago, but state unemployment officials are still seeing huge new losses when compared to this point last year.
A local legal non-profit says the state agency responsible for handling unemployment benefit claims has repeatedly broken promises as throngs of people continue suffering significant hardships.
One is a Seattle woman who says she has been waiting nearly 3 months to receive her benefits.
Chris Potter says now that she has more than enough time on her hands, she diving into personal creative efforts.
She works with stain glass and it requires intense focus. She says the creative process gives her a chance to ignore a looming financial crisis.
“It’s been 11.5 weeks and I haven’t been able to ahold of anybody who can help me,” she said.
After being laid-off a severance package has kept her afloat, but she’s dipping into savings and cannot understand why delays in unemployment benefits persist.
“For those waiting to be paid, the situation is increasingly desperate,” said ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine during a Thursday new teleconference. “We hear you.” LeVine added that momentum is building to push more backlogged claims through.
But ever since scammers swindled hundreds of millions of dollars from the agency, steps to authenticate many claims dramatically slowed benefit distribution. The National Guard joined the ranks at the agency to help expedite payments but many awaiting benefits are left on their own.
“Since March, employment security has broken every promise it has made to processing claims,” said John Tirpak with The Unemployment Law Project.
The organization is non-profit and helps many navigate unemployment challenges during the best of times. Tirpak says since the local economy contracted, hundreds of people have called asking for help every week.
“Many people have run through their savings,” he said. “Some have moved out of state.”
Potter says if she doesn’t receive benefits soon she may have to ask family for help or even move in with them.
For now, it’s her passion for stained glass keeping her focused but she also worries relief may never come.
“There’s just a part of me that feels like I’ll never get paid,” Potter said.
Tirpak says anyone still waiting for benefits should reach out to their lawmakers.