Unemployment benefits backlog improving, thousands await relief

While many Americans anxiously wait to find out if additional federal unemployment benefits will be extended, thousands in Washington state continue waiting – sometimes weeks – before relief.

Lawyers at the Unemployment Law Project said hundreds are reaching out to the non-profit agency for assistance each week, and as many as 40,000 in our state are hanging by a thread desperate for relief.

Nancy Shellenberger view from her South King County home hasn’t changed much since the pandemic forced her to be furloughed from work.

Even though National Guard members have been helping the ESD push through a backlog of claims, Shellenberger is growing inpatient for her benefits.

“They really have been causing unbelievable amounts of stress,” she said. “I’m lucky I have food in my refrigerator.”

“The money that they’re not receiving is also money that’s not going out to the economy,” said Unemployment Law Project senior attorney Behnaz Mansouri. “It’s really not lifting everybody.”

ULP is a non-profit that advocates for those challenging the state for benefits and families that depend on the money inch closer to despair.

‘It was two to three weeks, now it’s 15-18 weeks,” said Mansouri. “It’s unheard of and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.”

According to an agency news release, the total number of unemployment claims have been on a downturn since the end of June.

“Our focus has really gotten a lot bigger because more people have been impacted,” said Seattle Jobs Initiative executive director Ryan Davis.

Before the pandemic SJI placed marginalized communities into sustainable careers. But the demand has increased three-fold since March.

Some clients aren’t eligible for unemployment and those who do were, are relying on the federal bonus.

“It is absolutely essential to allow access benefits for all those workers,” said Davis.

Shellenberger has been able to stay afloat but many others still waiting for state benefits can’t. Out of all her criticisms of EDS, she says the easiest solution seems to be the last resort – communication.

The state agency says the backlog for those waiting for benefits the longest has been cut by 75%, but attorneys at USP are suggesting those waiting for benefits and haven’t been able to connect with ESD to call your state lawmaker.