OLYMPIA – The Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) announced on Monday it has resolved all claims included in the Operation 100% initiative. These include all individuals who had applied between March 8 and June 18 who had yet to receive payment and needed ESD to take action to resolve their claims.
“Getting benefits to all eligible Washingtonians has been, and continues to be, our agency’s top priority in this crisis,” said ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine. “As we turn the page on Operation 100%, more than 81,500 individuals who had applied by mid-June and not received payment now have resolution on their claims. While clearing this initial backlog represents significant progress, and more than 900,000 individuals have received benefits since the crisis began, we know we still have a lot more work to do and a lot of trust to be regained as we move into the next phase of our response. There are still those who have applied since mid-June or had issues set on their weekly claims and need resolution. We will leverage the progress made and lessons learned in Operation 100% to help those individuals and resolve all claims much faster moving forward.”
In addition to resolving the backlog of 81,508 claims by the July 31 deadline, ESD also met the other target for Operation 100%, which was to reduce to four weeks the average time to process claims.
Along with states across the nation, ESD saw an immediate and historic spike in unemployment claims as the COVID-19 crisis hit in March. The scale and speed of the demand was unlike anything that had ever happened before as initial claims filed in Washington increased by over 800% in a single week and, following the launch of the additional benefits under the federal CARES Act, the state saw the single largest week of claims in history – with nearly 1.5 million initial claims filed. For context, the week ending March 7 — before the crisis hit — saw only 6,584 initial claims filed. To meet this demand, the agency has hired thousands more customer service and claims center staff, made numerous enhancements to the technology and adjusted training and workflows to capture greater efficiencies.
In May, Washington was also one of many states to be hit by a sophisticated criminal ring that perpetrated a considerable imposter fraud attack. Criminals used personal information stolen outside of ESD’s system to claim benefits in others’ name. While ESD put a swift stop to the attack, preventing hundreds of millions in additional fraudulent payments, the added scrutiny and identity verification measures impacted the speed at which the department could work through the backlog of claims from earlier in the crisis.
Commissioner LeVine provided a detailed update to the media on Monday, July 3, on Operation 100% and fraud – including releasing figures of confirmed fraudulent claims and specifics on fraud payments prevented. The video and slideshow can be found in the newsroom on ESD’s website.
With the initial backlog now cleared and added fraud measures in place, the agency is turning its focus from crisis to consistency, with a more predictable and consistent customer experience and faster resolution on claims when issues arise. The department launched a new benefits data dashboard to report information about payments, the claimant population, status of claims processing and more. This dashboard, which will be updated weekly, will allow the public stay up to speed on the status, progress and performance of benefits claims and processing as the pandemic continues.
“This crisis has been unpredictable from the start, with many twists and challenges,” added Commissioner LeVine. “While we don’t know what’s in store next, we do know that economic and employment uncertainty will continue for the near future. Our role at the Employment Security Department is to provide a counterbalance to the uncertainty – through accessible unemployment benefits, re-employment services and support for businesses so they may retain a skilled workforce. Meeting the targets of Operation 100% and stopping the imposter fraud attack will allow our agency greater flexibility and capacity to address whatever is around the corner, and better serve all our customers as we weather this crisis together.”
The new benefits data dashboard can be found on ESD’s website at esd.wa.gov/dashboard.