Unemployment

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said Thursday that just under 35,000 people are waiting for resolution of their claims for unemployment benefits, and that questions around their claims should be resolved by the end of the month.

LeVine said that as the agency continues to work through a backlog of cases - down from 81,000 last month - the agency has also resolved identify issues on more 200,000 claims.

Tens of thousands of unemployment benefit payments had been suspended in May as the state did additional verification following the revelation that the state had paid out up between $550 million and $650 million through tens of thousands of fraudulent claims made during the coronavirus pandemic.

To date, the state has recovered $360 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.

LeVine said that not all of the claims caught up in the backlog have to do with identity issues, noting that other discrepancies on the application can also hold up processing as staff seek additional information.

"We know that you're waiting and we are working incredibly hard to get you what you need," LeVine said.

More than 1.2 million people have filed claims for unemployment since early March when the pandemic job losses began, and more than 883,000 people who filed initial claims have been paid. To date, the state has paid more than $7.2 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 federal program that provides the additional weekly assistance is set to expire at the end of the month.

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits in Washington last week - 28,393 - decreased 11% from the previous week.

More than 736,151 claims for benefits - with some of that number reflecting people who filed multiple claims - were filed for the week of June 28-July 4, up 5.7% from the previous week. More than $470 million was paid for 404,475 individual claims last week.

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