WASHINGTON — More than 133,000 workers in Washington state filed for unemployment in the last week as the covid-19 pandemic takes an economic toll.

The number of claims filed to the Washington State Employment Security Department from March 15 through March 21 is almost double the number filed in the first 10 weeks of 2020, which totaled about 77,500.

Complete information is available at https://esd.wa.gov/unemployment. There have been reports of lengthy waiting times for a connection.

With so many workers filing for unemployment in such a short time, the state is trying to make it easier for people to file for, and receive, unemployment benefits.

For standby employees, the Employment Security Department no longer requires those workers to be actively looking for work, if they’ve been temporarily laid off or had their hours reduced due to a business slowdown resulting from covid-19. The emergency rules also allow people to request up to 12 weeks of standby status.

People requesting standby status must stay in contact with their employer and must accept any work the employer offers, as long as it does not require the person to break isolation or quarantine. This includes work options such as telework. The Employment Security Department is working on getting its filing system updated to reflect the new rules.

If a request for more than four weeks of standby is denied, the Employment Security Department told people filing not to worry. The standby denials are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if the applicants meet the new standby criteria. A letter of denial may be followed by a letter approving a person for standby status.

“Keep filing weekly claims during this time,” The Employment Security Department said on its website.

As part of the rule changes, the Employment Security Department waived the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits. If a person’s hours were cut to part time, they may also be eligible to receive benefits.

Federal relief on its way

Following several days of negotiations, and then more time as the bill went through the legislative process, a bill that provides $2.2 trillion in economic relief was overwhelmingly approved in Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27.

The law includes what Sen. Chuck Schumer described as “unemployment insurance on steroids” by giving laid-off workers $600 per week for up to four months on top of what states already provide in unemployment insurance benefits.

Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi Levine said that the stimulus package will expand unemployment benefits for Washingtonians to those who are not currently eligible to receive state benefits, such as those who are self-employed or have worked fewer than 680 hours in covered employment in the past 12 to 18 months.

“Getting this up online is going to take some serious hard work from my team, and they are working around the clock,” Levine said in a video message to Washingtonians. She thinks that it will take about three weeks to get the new program up and running, and asks for people to sign up for the Employment Security Department’s covid-19 action alerts to stay up to date on the program’s status.

Each American adult making less than $75,000 per year will receive a one-time direct payment of $1,200 from the federal government. Couples making up to $150,000 would receive $2,400, with an additional $500 per child. Payments begin to decrease for those making more than $75,000, with individuals making over $99,000 and couples making over $198,000 excluded from receiving any payment.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that the expectation is for the direct payments to be delivered within three weeks. But for those whose banking information isn’t filed with the IRS, the wait for a physical check could take much longer to arrive in mailboxes.

Americans who have gotten a tax refund in the previous two years from the IRS by direct deposit will receive the one-time payment via direct deposit. For those who have not, a check will be mailed by the IRS to your “last known address.” The IRS has 15 days to notify you of the method and amount of the payment, and it will also send a phone number and a point of contact in the case that you did not receive the payment.

The bill also gave $500 billion in corporate bailout funds to be overseen by Mnuchin; $425 billion of these funds can be leveraged by the federal reserve, meaning it could become a multi-trillion dollar bailout.

The bill allows companies that get stimulus money to still lay off 10% of their workforces in the next six months.

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