Another decline in initial regular UI claims in Washington; National Guard will assist ESD in claims verification.

The state Employment Security Department announced another weekly drop in initial regular UI claims.

During the week of May 31 through June 6, there were 29,713 initial regular unemployment claims (down 4.8% from the prior week) and 729,053 total claims for all unemployment benefit categories (a decrease of 45,906) filed by Washingtonians, according to the Employment Security Department (ESD).  ESD believes the continued decrease is due to a variety of reasons including fraud prevention measures and more people going back to work with the reopening of some industry sectors and regions over the past three weeks.

The table below shows the array of filings. Note that an additional 20,000 claims filed under the two federal programs created to address unemployment during the pandemic.

Unemployment claim type

For week of

May 31-June 6

For week of

May 24-30

For week of

May 17-23

Regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) initial claims

29,713

31,224

48,445

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) initial claims

10,569

12,878

21,250

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) initial claims

9,195

10,176

19,111

Continued/ongoing weekly claims

680,116

720,681

841,576

Total claims

729,593

774,959

930,382

More from the ESD release.

Since the week ending March 7 when COVID-19 job losses began:

  • A total of 2,082,098 initial claims have been filed during the pandemic (1,301,944 regular unemployment insurance, 417,757 PUA and 362,397 PEUC)
  • A total of 1,168,129 distinct individuals have filed for unemployment benefits
  • ESD has paid out over $5.4 billion in benefits
  • 844,077 individuals who have filed an initial claim have been paid

“We continue to see a decline in initial claims, which is expected as the economy starts to reopen,” said ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine. ”Our priorities from day one of this crisis have been to get benefits out to Washingtonians who need them quickly and expand eligibility so those impacted can get the help they need, and we are continuing to ramp up our staffing to work through the large numbers of applicants and adjudications. We know every day matters for people awaiting their benefits. We are committed to processing those claims as quickly as possible.”

Seattle Times business reporter Paul Roberts writes that the National Guard will assist ESD with claims verification.

The National Guard will help Washington state process some of the thousands of unemployment claims that are being delayed as state investigators continue to battle an organized identity-theft scheme that may have cost the state $650 million.

Starting next week, National Guard troops will assist the state Employment Security Department (ESD) in verifying the identities of individuals whose claims for jobless benefits are being held up for review for potential fraud, Commissioner Suzi LeVine announced during a news conference Thursday morning.

LeVine wasn’t sure how many troops would be assigned to the ESD or how long it would take to train the troops for their new duties with the agency, which has been scrambling to bring in more staff to help process and verify claims.

Also, the state auditor announced her office would be investigating the UI benefit fraud.

State Auditor Pat McCarthy notified Gov. Jay Inslee and members of the state Legislature today that the Office of the Washington State Auditor will begin two special examinations of the significant fraud and loss of public funds at the state Employment Security Department.

“Everyone recognizes these problems came at the worst possible time, when the need for essential unemployment benefits was unprecedented. Our role at the State Auditor’s Office is to conduct independent reviews, and I have directed my staff to look in areas that will provide the public and state leaders with a greater understanding of how needed benefits were stolen and delayed,” Auditor Pat McCarthy said.

Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner writes,

The announcement comes after months of cascading revelations about the looting of Washington’s unemployment system by scammers, including a Nigerian cybercrime network known as “Scattered Canary.” The state has acknowledged paying out between $550 million and $650 million in fraudulent claims while saying $333 million of that has been recovered with the aid of federal law enforcement…

In an interview, McCarthy said her office has been developing an audit plan for a while and decided to take action after hearing from lawmakers and the general public.

McCarthy stressed her office can examine “the whys of what happened” but won’t be able to speed up benefit payments. “We are not going to be able to go in and expedite the processing,” she said. “We can go in and look at what happened, why it happened. And what ways we can avoid it in the future,” she said.

Progress.