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Unemployment fraud, employment security
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Family waiting on unemployment forced to sell ‘everything out of house’

A stack of unemployment forms. (Getty Images)

The Employment Security Department announced Monday that the initial backlog of over 81,000 people who had made unemployment claims between March and mid-June has at last been cleared, in an effort dubbed “Operation 100%.”

But many people who applied during that time period said they have received neither funds nor any word of when those funds might be coming.

On a Facebook post made in a group for unemployed Washingtonians, hundreds of people told KIRO Radio they filed before mid-June and still are waiting for a response from ESD.

For the Cichocki family of Kennewick, this delay came at a huge price.

Furloughed single mom details being locked out of unemployment

Vincent Cichocki started a construction company last fall, but had to shut down during the stay-at-home order in March. That was when he said he first filed for unemployment, as the CARES Act permitted self-employed individuals to collect unemployment benefits.

But in the months since, his claims have only ever said “pending.”

Cichocki said he has called about “30 times a day for weeks at a time,” but has never gotten through.

“You just get an unavailable kind of tone, and then you would just try again and hope that it would ring, … and then they announced that they weren’t doing phone calls anymore and they were going to call you, but I never received a call or a voicemail,” he said. “So I just proceeded to email them, but I never once got a response back.”

Cichocki is the breadwinner for a family of three that’s set to grow to four in October — his wife, Casey, is expecting a daughter. After months with no income and no unemployment payments coming in, the family began selling what they could.

“We were about two months out of no income, we didn’t have a whole lot more than that saved up,” Cichocki said. “So over a period of time, we sold everything — boat, trailer, extra cars — we pretty much sold everything out of the house.”

They even put their house on the market and planned to move into an apartment.

“It’s hard to turn around and explain to your kid that you have to sell all of your stuff, even his trampoline and his play set, because we’re moving,” Cichocki said.

In the meantime, they’ve also had to close the family construction business. Cichocki searched as far away as Alaska for jobs.

Last month, Cichocki eventually found a position working under an old boss again that allowed the family to keep the house.

However, trying to recover from four months without an income is no easy feat. To make matters worse, their home HVAC system happened to go out right at that time.

“It’s hard to afford right now, to drain everything you have, and then it’s like, ‘All right, bounce back … go be a homeowner again,'” he said. “‘Go replace your HVAC, go fix your leaky roof, go fix your hot water heater.'”

Cichocki thinks his family will never see the money they’re owed, and feels let down by the state.

“I think it’s a little bold of them to say they’re completely caught up in their payments when they’re not,” he said. “When we closed everything down, you had that security blanket, that comfort, [of the state] saying, ‘You can stay home, we have you. You can pay your bills, you’re going to get paid your unemployment, with an additional $600 per month.’ And then you wait … and it never happens, and you kind of lose hope in the whole system.”

Still, he feels grateful to have a roof over his head and a new job, even if it was a step back.

“There have to be way more people out there with a similar story, same issue. … Even though it was difficult, I know that there are people out there who are less fortunate than I am, who are still in a predicament,” he said.

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