This photo shows a sign at the headquarters for Washington state’s Employment Security Department Tuesday, May 26, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

This photo shows a sign at the headquarters for Washington state’s Employment Security Department Tuesday, May 26, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

State continues work to clear unemployment benefit backlog

Over the past two weeks, the agency has been able to clear identity issues on 100,000 claims.

OLYMPIA — Washington Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said Thursday that over the past two weeks the agency has been able to clear identity issues on the claims of 100,000 people seeking unemployment benefits, and they continue to work on resolving other issues on the claims of those still awaiting payments.

Tens of thousands of unemployment benefit payments had been suspended last month as the state did additional verification following the revelation that the state had paid out up to $650 million through tens of thousands of fraudulent claims made during the coronavirus pandemic.

To date, the state has recovered $350 million. A West African fraud ring using identities stolen in prior data breaches, such as the massive 2017 Equifax breach, is believed to be behind the fraud, which has targeted several other states during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, 50 members of the National Guard were brought on board to join the more than 400 staffers at the Employment Security Department to work on ID verification work.

LeVine said that the cases of 42,000 people who were already receiving payments but had their payments paused May 15 because of identification issues have been resolved. There are an additional 71,000 people who have submitted claims between March and June but have not been paid due to one or more issues in their accounts, she said.

She said that the agency’s goal is to resolve the 10,000 longest-waiting applicants by July 6, and then an additional 33,000 applicants by July 15. She said the target for resolving the remaining claims is no later than July 31.

Nearly 1.2 million people have filed claims for unemployment since early March when the pandemic job losses began, and more than 875,000 people who filed initial claims have been paid. To date, the state has paid more than $6.5 billion in benefits, two thirds of which is federal money that is providing the unemployed with an additional $600 a week on top of the state’s weekly maximum benefit of up to $790 per week.

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits in Washington last week — 29,612 — increased 2% last week from the previous week.

More than 718,00 claims for benefits — with some of that number reflecting people who filed multiple claims — were filed for the week of June 14-20, up 3.3% from the previous week. More than $532 million was paid for 410,836 individual claims last week.

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