WA state continues work to clear unemployment benefit backlog

Washington Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said Thursday that over the past two weeks the agency has been able to clear identity issues on the claims of 100,000 people seeking unemployment benefits, and they continue to work on resolving other issues on the claims of those still awaiting payments.

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

To date, the state has recovered $350 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.

Last week, 50 members of the National Guard were brought on board to join the more than 400 staffers at the Employment Security Department to work on ID verification work.

Nearly 1.2 million people have filed claims for unemployment since early March when the pandemic job losses began, and more than 875,000 people who filed initial claims have been paid. To date, the state has paid more than $6.5 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. (AP)

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