4,000+ people filed for unemployment in the Tri-Cities last week

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – The Employment Security Department of Washington state is getting flooded with unemployment claims.

Last week, Washingtonians submitted 133,464 new claims, which was an increase of 119,310 claims from the week before. About 4,000 Benton County residents filed a claim last week. In addition, 1,100 Franklin County and 720 Walla Walla County residents submitted claims.

“We’ve had a large number of people applying – more than we’ve have seen since 1930,” said Ajsa Suljic, Regional Economist for the Washington state Employment Security Department. “So if their regular incomes are shattered by the COVID-19 impact, we are looking to help them out through unemployment benefits.”

The department is looking at several different factors when it comes to eligibility. They look at how many hours you worked in a base year, the reason you’re unemployed and your availability to work for the weeks you claim.

People may also be eligible if they’re out of work due to a lack of work. With new emergency parameters, those self-employed or gig workers are eligible for unemployment benefits.

“Under the new plan, eligible workers may see an additional $600 each for up to four months,” Suljic said. “The $600 is still coming from federal stimulus funding.”

The benefits can be collected for up to 39 weeks because of an emergency extension.

You’ll need a few things before applying such as basic personal information, work history and your bank account number.

Applying online is the fastest way to submit a claim. Over the phone is an option. However, KAPP-KVEW attempted to call the number provided by the ESD. An automated message stated they’re receiving a high number of calls and to call back at another time.

“If they’re cleared, they’ll be notified within a certain time period,” Suljic said.

However, the exact time it takes between submitting the claim and getting cleared for benefits is not known. You’ll get a determination letter to let you know if you are eligible or not.

“There’s no waiting period for benefits to start kicking in,” Suljic said. “As soon as you apply that week, you start getting benefits right away.”

One option when applying is a “stand-by status.” This means you worked full-time, got temporarily laid off and are expected to return to work.

“If you request stand-by status whether full-time or part-time, you may receive an updated letter that your request has been denied,” Suljic explained. “That notice does not reflect emergency rules we are in process of updating our computer.”

Suljic said the ESD is working to understand the changes and update their technology to make sure everyone who is eligible gets the full amount. Those who receive a letter denying the claim will also be reviewed.

“This may take several weeks to update, but you will receive any back payments you are owed accordingly,” she said.

There are other changes that were made to help people who need unemployment. You don’t have to look for work while collecting benefits as many places are forced to closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, once benefits are received, you don’t have to file a claim the first week you receive them. However, claims must be filed every week after the one-week grace period.

The backlog of applications submitted to the ESD is not known. More information about the amount of claims are expected to be released this week.

“Be patient, give us a little bit of time,” Suljic said. “We are working through each one of these applications to get your funds to you as soon as possible.”

For more information about unemployment benefits, click here.

On ESD’s website, there is an FAQ page for both workers and employers. Suljic said most of the questions people have can be answered online.