State sued for delaying benefits during fraud inquiry

Attorneys for two laid-off workers are suing Washington state.

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Attorneys for two laid-off workers are suing Washington state for delays in paying benefits while it reins in rampant unemployment fraud.

Northwest News Network reports that the nonprofit Unemployment Law Project, which helps people receive jobless benefits and appeal denied claims, filed the case directly with the state Supreme Court on Friday.

It seeks an order forcing the Employment Security Department to issue all payments promptly, saying the state does not have the authority to halt payment of legitimate claims, even to stop fraudulent ones.

Authorities say Washington paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent unemployment claims as it rushed to help people hurt by the economic fallout from the pandemic. They have blamed international criminal organizations using identities stolen in previous large-scale data breaches.

The state said this week it has recovered about half of the $550 million to $650 million that was fraudulently paid out. Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine says she knows residents are hurting financially and that her agency is doing its best to get them help as soon as possible.

“People understand the COVID virus has presented a major crisis and many systems are overloaded,” said John Tirpak, executive director of the Unemployment Law Project. “People have been patient and know things are not going to happen instantly. But when you have been attempting to claim unemployment since March and it’s already June and there has been no progress, it’s very discouraging.”

Many claimants began receiving unemployment benefits only to have the payments suspended as the state sought to limit fraud. Among them was plaintiff McKeezi Barraza of Seattle, who was laid off in March when the pandemic shut down the restaurant where he worked part time.

“They said it could be anywhere from four to six weeks before I’m paid,” Barraza said. “To me, that’s unacceptable because I couldn’t even pay rent this month for June. I’ve got a few hundred dollars left in my pocket.”

The Employment Security Department said Thursday that more than 1.1 million individuals have filed claims for unemployment since early March when the pandemic job losses began. Nearly 830,000 have been paid.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

Humpback whale hit by Mukilteo ferry, Chip, is presumed dead

The whale, age 3, has not been seen since being struck Monday. His companion was later seen alone.

Man threatens passengers, flight forced to return to Sea-Tac

A video shows the man shouting that he would kill everyone on board “in the name of Jesus.”

6 people injured in Kent shooting

The incident left two people in critical condition and another three in serious condition.

Seattle mayor, City Council at odds over 50% police cut

More than 17,000 complaints against officers related to protests have been received.

Washington justices void 1916 tribal rights ruling as racist

The case concerned Alec Towessnute, a Yakama Nation member arrested after using a gaff hook.

Bacteria found in water at Washington psychiatric hospital

No one can take showers or even wash their hands.

Comet streaking past Earth, providing spectacular show

NASA’s Neowise infrared space telescope discovered the comet in March.

Inslee: Trump threats on reopening schools ‘hogwash’

The president said he’d hold back federal money if school districts don’t bring students back in the fall.

Most of Seattle council pledges to support police defunding

7 of 9 council members support the idea, though they have yet to say how they intend to make the cuts.

Driver who hit protesters on I-5 charged with 3 felonies

Dawit Kelete, 27, is accused of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and reckless driving.

State: Held up jobless claims to be resolved by end of month

Just under 35,000 people are still waiting for resolution of their claims for unemployment benefits.

11-year-old boy in Yakima shot twice in three days

The second time, his 9-year-old sister was also shot. Both survived.