OLYMPIA — More than 585,000 people in Washington sought unemployment benefits last week, with 143,000 people filing claims for the first time as businesses remain closed or with limited operations due to the stay-at-home order issued in response to the cororavirus pandemic, state officials said Thursday.
While weekly claim numbers for the week of April 5-11 declined from the previous week, it was still the third highest weekly number of claims on record, according to the state Employment Security Department. The department has paid out nearly $272 million in benefits since early March, with nearly $126 million being paid out last week to more than 265,000 unemployed workers.
In a statement, Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine said “we know that many more are awaiting that same relief.”
“We are taking many steps to help get people their benefits,” she wrote.
Though initial claims were still at a very high level across the state last week, every county — except Snohomish and Adams — recorded a lower number than the prior period.
The number of first-time benefit seekers surged by 31% in Snohomish County. There were 27,780 new claims filed, up from 21,148 the previous week.
A spike in manufacturing-related unemployment, including aerospace, accounted for the increase. There were 13,106 initial claims compared to 2,020 the previous week. Construction, retail trade and health care were down in the latest Snohomish County tally after climbing in previous weeks.
Since March 1, roughly 88,000 workers in Snohomish County have filed for financial assistance as a result of losing their job, being furloughed or having hours reduced.
LeVine said that on Saturday, their system will be updated so that previously ineligible employees — like independent contractors and part-time employees who work fewer than 680 hours — can start applying for benefits under the expansion of unemployment benefits passed by Congress. The updated system will also start adding another element from the federal economic rescue package: an additional $600 a week in jobless aid, on top of what recipients receive from their states. Workers will also get an additional 13 weeks of benefits beyond the six months of jobless aid that most states offer.
In Washington state, where the maximum weekly benefit is $790 a week, the additional $600 will be paid retroactive back to March 29, officials said.
LeVine said because of the newly eligible workers who will start applying for benefits this weekend “we expect to see an even larger surge of claims in the coming weeks.”
The state’s stay-at-home order that closed all non-essential businesses has already been extended once and is currently in place through May 4. Gov. Jay Inslee has warned that it is possible the order may have to be extended once again, and said at a news conference Wednesday that any reopening of the economy will have to be phased in.
Washington’s unemployment rate increased to 5.1% last month and the state’s economy lost more than 11,000 jobs, though officials noted that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the workforce isn’t likely to be fully reflected until the April report is released next month.
In the past month, about 22 million Americans nationwide have filed for unemployment aid due to the economic impacts of the coronavirus.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed.