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  • Washington Employment Security Department

Regarding the Extraordinary Demand We’re Seeing for Expanded Unemployment Benefits

Dear Members of Congress, Legislators, Local Leaders and Staff Members,

I have a timely update for you on the expansion of unemployment benefits that will help you field potential inquiries from your constituents.

As I shared this past week, we updated our systems for unemployment assistance yesterday (4/18) to accommodate the new Federal CARES act provisions for expanded eligibility, increased weekly benefits, and extended time for unemployment assistance.

Tomorrow, I’ll be sending a more comprehensive weekly note with materials for you to share with your constituents on what they can/should do to apply, but I didn’t want to wait to send you a heads up about what we’ve been seeing last (Saturday) night, what we’re doing about it and where we’d appreciate your help. We also just posted this statement for the media.

The good news is that, even though the update only went live at 8pm on Saturday night, by noon today, we already had tens of thousands of people who had successfully applied for the expanded unemployment assistance (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – PUA). These people will, when they file their initial weekly claim, at a minimum, receive the minimum weekly benefit ($235 for full-time workers) + the $600 from the Federal CARES act starting this week. We also have tens of thousands who have already successfully activated the additional 13 weeks of benefits (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – PEUC).

In last week’s Partner Toolkit, I shared where we might run into challenges. Specifically, I said “High demand may still cause performance issues on our phones, in our account sign-up system and through our online application”

That is what we experienced last night and have been seeing sporadically today. The sign-up system and the online application, in particular, have been having challenges keeping up with the demand. Imagine the entire Seahawks Offensive Line trying to get through your front door at once – shoulder to shoulder. Throughout this crisis, our website volume has been about 1-1.2M hits per day (already much higher than we typically see). Today, we have been seeing that volume every two hours.

And while we had already increased bandwidth in anticipation for this launch, it still wasn’t enough out of the gate. However, my team has been working throughout the night and all day to improve performance and responsiveness and we are having success with those efforts. Our application volumes have been steadily and successfully increasing throughout the day.

Why we’re reaching out to you is because we’d like your help doing 3 things:

1) Encouraging folks who can’t get through to try applying on a different day or at an off-hour (we know that people have been hurting and want and need their money ASAP, but it’s possible that, by them shifting their time to apply, they’ll get through more quickly).

2) Remind them to read through the instructions and information on the website.

3) Emphasize to them that the money through this channel is not going to run out. Small businesses and sole proprietors seem to be particularly sensitive to this because of the finite nature of the Paycheck Protection Program grants.

Below are key messages we’d appreciate your help amplifying or that can be used by you/your staff to respond to constituents. These correlate to the top concerns we’ve heard thus far.

Key messages/constituent responses:

  • We have heard from the Employment Security Department that, despite tremendous efforts to increase their capacity for high demand, some people are still having challenges getting through online or on the phone. While the system is working and tens of thousands of people have successfully applied on Sunday alone, we encourage people to try at off-hours or later in the week. Once approved, people will be paid retroactive to their date of eligibility and funds are taking an average of 7-10 days and as little as 24-48 hours with direct deposit.

  • The funds for unemployment benefits will not run out. We have heard that some people are concerned that, if they don’t apply right away, they will miss out on their benefits. That is not the case. Whenever people apply, they will be paid the full amount for which they are eligible and they will be paid retroactive to the date of their eligibility.

· Weekly claims can be filed anytime from Sunday through Saturday and can also be filed over the automated phone system at: 800-318-6022.

· Many people are posting questions on social media that are answered on the website. Please be sure to check first before calling/sending in a note with your questions because it’s like to already be up there.

Fellow public servants, please know, I and my team are keenly aware that Washingtonians don’t want explanations, they want relief and security and they want their money. We are doing all we can as quickly as we can to provide them with that peace of mind and that economic stability. We are the first state in the nation to launch all three of the major Unemployment Benefits provisions of the CARES Act and we are responding to and addressing concerns at lightening speed.

On current course and speed, today may be the largest single day of claims and the largest single day of funds distributed in the history of our Unemployment Insurance system. And yet, we know that won’t be enough.

My team and I will continue to keep you informed as the situation progresses so that you can respond as quickly as possible to the needs of your constituents.


Suzi LeVine

Commissioner, the Employment Security Department

Please follow me @ESDCommish

(pronouns: she/her/hers)


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