You may qualify for an extra $1,500 in unemployment back pay

A federal program will give some of the state’s unemployed a $300 weekly bump for the past five weeks.

OLYMPIA — Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians could soon be getting up to $1,500 in unemployment back pay.

The money comes from the federally funded Lost Wages Assistance program administered by the state Employment Security Department, which provides a $300 unemployment benefit bump each week for five weeks, starting with the period that ended Aug. 1. To be eligible, you must be unemployed or working reduced hours because of the pandemic and have received unemployment compensation during the month of August. For those who collected all month, that’s a total of $1,500, and the program could continue into September.

President Donald Trump authorized the temporary Lost Wages Assistance program through a memorandum signed on Aug. 8.

The federal government approved Washington’s application for three weeks of back pay on Aug. 24. On Tuesday, the state was granted money for two more weeks of back pay. It’s unclear how long the program will last as Republicans and Democrats in Congress negotiate another COVID relief package.

“We essentially apply each week,” state Employment Security Department spokesperson Clare DeLong said. “If the application is approved, then the money is there. We’ll keep doing those applications as long as we can, but it’s a week-by-week basis.”

To claim your extra payments, all you need to do is visit your unemployment account online between Tuesday and Sept. 20 and answer a question to certify that you qualify for the program.

The agency is worried that an influx of users on Tuesday could cause issues for the website.

“You have this entire time to do it,” DeLong said.

There is no benefit to answering the question earlier as long as you certify your status by Sept. 20, she said.

The Employment Security Department will start processing the payments on Sept. 21.

More information about the process and answers to frequently asked questions can be found on the agency’s website, esd.wa.gov/LWA.

Meanwhile, about 20,000 Washingtonians are waiting for the state agency to resolve issues with their claims. For some, that process is holding up thousands of dollars in owed back pay.

With new claims coming in each week, there will always be pending cases, the agency has said. The goal has been to reduce the wait time for each case to three weeks. Now it’s nearly double that.

“We just need to keep working through these” cases, DeLong said. “Those who have been waiting the longest are definitely still a priority.”

Most new claimants are getting paid within a week, she said.

In total, the state has paid out more than $10 billion in unemployment benefits since the pandemic hit in March.

But an unprecedented wave of new claims, and a massive international fraud scheme, caused tens of thousands of Washingtonians to wait weeks or months for relief.

DeLong said she didn’t anticipate the same issues for the Lost Wages Assistance program because recipients of the new round of payments are already in the state’s system.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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