LeVine

Washington Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine speaks at a news conference in April. 

A monthly report published Wednesday, June 17, by the state Employment Security Department shows the return of more than 52,000 jobs —  a sign the economy is beginning to recover as the state reopens due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. 

The positive number doesn’t negate the reality that Washington lost more than 457,000 jobs in April due to the pandemic, nor the fact that the state’s unemployment rate stands historically high at about 15.1 percent. 

“Over the past month, a small portion of the jobs lost during the first two months of the pandemic were recovered as the economy begins to reopen across the state,” Paul Turek, economist for ESD, said in a prepared statement. 

The seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate nationwide stands at about 13.3 percent, a decrease of 1.4 percent over the previous month. 

In a Thursday afternoon press conference, efforts to curb fraudulent claims and recover lost funds took center stage as Commissioner Suzi LeVine gave an update on ongoing efforts to pay out a growing number of backlogged unemployment claims. 

LeVine said the state has recovered roughly $350 million in fraudulent claims. 

In an effort to expand checks on eligibility, LeVine said roughly 50 members from the National Guard would be trained to work on ID verification. Training is expected to take about a day and a half, and LeVine noted that they could help the state with other needs. 

It’s estimated a total 100 members of the National Guard will be in Olympia to help with this effort.

“They’ll join the more than 400 ESD staff, myself and my leadership team included, who’s shifted to work on ID verification and the 200 investigators also focused on this effort,” she said.

The large-scale fraud attack on Washington state’s system also hindered the department’s ability to process and pay 100 percent of eligible unpaid claims filed between March 8 and May 1 by June 15, LeVine said, which was a major goal. 

ESD is now resetting its target on that effort to resolve unpaid claims, which total about 81,508, and a date for that deadline is expected by next week. 

Following the implementation of expanded fraud prevention measures put into place about a month ago by ESD, the state and its counties continue to see a decrease in the number of initial claims for insurance. 

For the week of June 7-13, Thurston County saw its fourth consecutive decrease in the number of filed initial claims, dropping from 915 the week prior to 809. 

Statewide, approximately 29,028 claims were filed during that same time, which is down about 2.3 percent. ESD also paid out more than $454.7 million to 399,879 total claims that week, according to the department. 

“The total number of claims remains historically high, but we are seeing a continued decline in initial claims week over week as the economy reopens,” LeVine said in prepared remarks. 

LeVine said the department’s top priority continues to be its ability to get benefits out as quickly as possible for those who are eligible. 

“We’ll continue to stay focused on these goals even as we navigate the reopening of the economy, and support Washingtonians as they get safely back to work,” she said. 

Since the start of the pandemic the week ending on March 7, when ESD says job losses due to COVID-19 began, the department has paid out more than $5.4 billion in benefits to a total 856,428 workers. 

Roughly 1.18 million people have applied for unemployment benefits. 

Industries in Thurston County that saw a large number of initial claims the week of Jun 7-13 include specialty trade contractors, food services and drinking establishments, and undisclosed sectors, which made up 326 of the 809 new claims that week. 

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