Stimulus benefits complicate WA unemployment process

Coronavirus

Clark County residents trying to file for unemployment benefits are contending with a slew of issues

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Filing for unemployment can be a confusing process even in the best of times but many people living in Southwest Washington now must contend with added complications. 

State economists report the restaurant and hotel industries have been hit the hardest in terms of job losses in Clark County, followed by health care and social services—mostly due to outpatient clinics being closed.

Construction has also taken a hard hit as, unlike Oregon, all residential jobs have been shut down. Like so many other contractors, Bill Vidovic had to lay off his employees who are now struggling to apply for unemployment benefits.

“It’s at a standstill. Stopped. Completely dead in the water,” Vidovic said, adding that the stall has hurt him “big time. I’m angry about it.”

In the state of Washington, some 450,000 residents filed for unemployment benefits in the past month—that’s about 11% of the workforce. The surge in claims is being handled without the regular workforce offices (which are closed due to the COVID-19 shutdown). Claims must now be made online or over the phone. 

But as many of the 25,000 who have filed for unemployment in Clark County can attest, wait times have been lengthy. Many have received confusing letters of denial, only to receive approval letters a few days later. Slowing the distribution of state unemployment benefits further are the new benefits rolling in from the federal stimulus package, which have created computing issues for the state.

Scott Bailey, an economist for the State of Washington, told KOIN 6 News on Tuesday officials are working on fixing the problem. 

“Our system wasn’t set up to process those yet but we are pretty close to ironing that out,” he said. “It’s brutal.”

Those who are approved for the federal benefits will get up to $600 a week in addition to the state unemployment money. Under normal circumstances, those filing for unemployment benefits could expect to receive their first payment about 2.5 weeks after applying. They’d also be required to continue their job search but that requirement has been temporarily lifted.

Questions about unemployment benefits in Washington? Click here

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