SKYWAY, Wash. - Since COVID-19 struck, the state’s unemployment office has been ravaged by millions of claims, billions of dollars in payouts, and hundreds of millions of dollars stolen in fraudulent claims.
It’s been a rough go for Washington's Employment Security Department, but even rougher for the Washingtonians waiting for a check they need to literally survive. While ESD recently paid off 81,000 people with backlogged claims, there are many people still waiting who haven’t seen a dime.
The pandemic has turned Genae Gillespie’s life upside down. She was laid off from her job as an account manager at an insurance brokerage on May 8th. That same day she filed for unemployment.
“I’ve called over 1,000 times and sat on hold for over 12 hours and I’m just at my wit's end because you can sit on hold and call a million times but you’re still going to get the same answer which is nothing,” says Gillespie.
Those numbers aren’t an exaggeration, she’s made an excel spreadsheet to document her failed attempts to get her claim processed.
“Tears of frustration, sadness, anxiety, anger, depression, like what am I going to do? My cards overdrawn just to get gas, what am I going to do next week to get through?”
Gillespie says her financial situation has grown dire.
“To not be able to get my benefits is inhumane when I have a five-year-old daughter looking at me every single day crying because I can’t even afford to buy her an outfit that fits because she’s outgrown her clothes from last summer.”
On top of it all, she’s applied to countless jobs with no luck. She says she’s never gone this long without work. It’s a helpless feeling-having cable cut, bills stack up, all while caring for her daughter as a single mother. She says this is her new day today:
“Okay so we have food, or food do I need to go to the food bank today? I can’t even buy soap at this point, I’m begging friends and family for hand soap dish soap.”
When you look at the unemployment numbers, ESD has come a long way. They completed operation 100%, a pledge to pay off 81,000 claims filed between March and June. But 24,000 people, like Gillespie still need their claims resolved.
“I’m just tired, tired of waiting. I feel like I’m a strong person but this has been really breaking me down.”