Unemployed Washingtonians still waiting for answers, some told to send money back

Aug 26, 2020, 1:38 PM
unemployment, insurance rates, fraud...
(Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As 20,000 people still wait for their unemployment benefits, others are getting hit with denials and navigating an appeals process that they say can be confusing. Others still who have received unemployment are being told that they now need to send that money back.

Lacey hairdresser Madison Heay quit her job in March because of having asthma and other health conditions that put her at risk for coronavirus.

Employment Security allows some at-risk people who quit work for COVID-19 health concerns to collect unemployment, and Heay says she was told that she was approved for benefits she still has yet to receive.

“I had gotten an automatic phone call — it was just a random recording saying that I was approved, that I was getting the $600 and the weekly [benefit], I just had to wait until it got through,” she said. “And then nothing was ever sent to me.”

Unemployed Washingtonians living in fear until benefits arrive

For months, she spent a portion of each day trying to get through to ESD.

“Every single day, I would send 10, 15 messages, but no one has ever, ever, ever replied to any of my messages,” Heay said. “They can see my messages, they told me they can see my messages, but no one has ever replied. I’ve called probably more than 1,000 times.”

Two times she got through on the phone, but was told the person she was talking to could not answer her questions. Heay said she was informed that she needed to talk to a Tier 3 agent for her questions, but could not be transferred to one. She feels she is at her wit’s end.

“What are they doing all day?” Heay said. “Why are they getting paid to just say, ‘I don’t know,’ all day, every day when there are people who are unemployed who are scrounging for money and they can’t get any answers, they can’t get their money that they need to pay their bills?”

Now, nearly five months of waiting for an answer has resulted in a denial and an appeals process.

In the meantime, as Heay starts at square one and waits for the results of her appeal, she still has to manage her bills. What’s more, she got hit with emergency surgery for her sick cat, which a family member helped her to cover. She would also like to move out of her home, but she said that is impossible in her current financial situation.

“The house that we’re living in — it’s condemn-able,” she said. “Health-wise, it’s not a good place to live.”

Family waiting on unemployment forced to ‘sell everything out of house’

Then there are those who have received at least some of their benefits … but are now being told to return them.

Downtown Issaquah small business owner Heath Anderson filed for unemployment when he had to temporarily close his business, Fresh the Juice Bar, this past spring, and lost his contract at the Microsoft campus due to cafeterias closing.

Anderson said it took months to receive his first check, and that he still hasn’t received unemployment for all the weeks he is owed.

Now, he says Employment Security is asking for all the money they have paid out to him back.

“A few weeks ago, I noticed that they were trying to collect back the money that they had paid to me,” he said. “And the reason that they gave was that I had backdated to when all this started, like I was told to do.”

The money amounts to about $6,000, seven weeks’ worth of benefits.

It’s money that Anderson said he is in no position to give back. To make up for his business losses, he said he has given up having a home for the time being.

Anderson said he has never gotten responses after calls, letters, and online messages. He believes the whole thing comes down to a glitch in the system, and now he, too, is in the appeals process.

“I just never hear anything back,” he said. “I’ve called, I’ve emailed, I’ve messaged on their site, and now sent a letter. I don’t know what to do.”

In the meantime, Anderson has reopened the juice bar, but he said due to the pandemic, business is 90% down from what it was this time last year. Cafeterias are still closed at campuses, barring him from setting back up there.

He feels betrayed by his state government — while he said he followed all the rules and closed his business to keep people safe, he feels government did not uphold its end of the bargain to take care of business owners.

“When they said that they’d take care of us, to close your shop, I believed them,” he said.

Employment Security has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story.

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Unemployed Washingtonians still waiting for answers, some told to send money back