More than 280,000 Washingtonians in limbo waiting for unemployment benefits

SEATTLE -- In the last 7 weeks, Washington state has had more initial unemployment claims filed than in the last 3 -1/2 years combined. Since the pandemic, the Employment Security Department has handed out $1.5 billion in benefits which is the most in state history.

So far, more than 787,000 Washingtonians have filed for benefits that boil down to 1 in 5 workers.

About 500,000 individuals have received their money which means more than 287,000 are in limbo still waiting.

ESD says they understand the anger and frustration over the process but much of the challenge comes down to just the sheer volume of claims pouring in.

Shandra Sgobba in Seattle is one of the people desperately waiting for money.

She lost multiple part-time jobs as a waitress and caterer due to COVID-19.

“Feeling really helpless and frustrated and scared,” Sgobba said.

She has good and bad days with a lot of emotions like so many people.

Q13 News first met Sgobba in late March as she struggled to file her initial claim through ESD’s website.

Shandra said the process was complicated for her to figure out and made worse by the fact that she had multiple jobs.

In the beginning, she waited for hours, day after day, on the phone to get answers on how to properly file.

Eventually, she got her paperwork processed but then she hit a wall.

“Ever since April 1st it’s been saying pending,” Sgobba said.

Sgobba said after getting through to someone at ESD on the phone again they said her case was under adjudication.

A third of the cases in limbo are stuck in the adjudication process where a specialized employee has to investigate necessary details to move forward. In Sgobba's case, the hold up is the fact that she quit one of her part-time jobs.

“I don’t understand why one job is holding up I worked many jobs in 18 months and I don’t know why I can’t get some type of funding for the other jobs,” Sgobba said.

Q13 FOX inquired about Sgobba’s case to the head of ESD.

“I am very sorry she has been waiting and that we have been able to address her circumstance,” Commissioner Suzi Levine said.

The way the system is set up right now has adjudicators looking at an applicant’s claim in its entirety before it can be resolved.  But Levine says the department is looking for ways to process cases like Sgobba’s more efficiently.

“The adjudication cue is the biggest area that we are working on and we don’t know if we can address that in the next couple of days but our belief is that we can address those in the next couple of weeks,” Levine said.

Sgobba says that response alone is helpful.

“I am grateful for that apology, it gives me a little bit more hope I think hearing anything is better than  just this last month when I didn’t hear anything,” Sgobba said.

On Thursday Levine also addressed complaints regarding people not being able to get through to talk to employees on the phone. The department continues to hire more people but she says with hundreds of calls happening in just one minute, many calls are going unanswered. About 1,000 people are working to process claims with roughly 500 employees answering phones.

ESD also says this week many Washingtonians heard their message to space out filing weekly claims allowing the department to process claims more efficiently.

Last week, Levine urged people to wait if they could and file their weekly claims after Monday rather than bombarding the system on the first few days the state accepts weekly claims.

Filing weekly claims are required to receive your money and a step that comes after you submit for initial claims and are approved.