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.

Local News

tacoma homicide...
Deborah Horne, KIRO 7 News

Third homicide in a week in Tacoma; homicides still below 2020

Neighbors are tense after a shooting early Saturday left a man dead at a homeless encampment on East 38th Street in Tacoma.
12 hours ago
Washington State University...
Associated Press

One killed, another injured in shooting near WSU campus

Police say a man has been arrested in connection with a shooting that killed one person and injured another near the Washington State University campus early Saturday morning.
2 days ago
homeless camp...
Andrew Scheinthal, KIRO 7 News

Seattle business attempts to clear homeless camp, backtracks after advocates step in

A Seattle business is facing heat from homeless advocacy groups after they attempted to clear out an encampment off of Lake City Way.
2 days ago
COVID, hospitals...
Nick Bowman

‘Tough few weeks ahead’ as state’s hospitals continue to struggle with flood of COVID patients

While Washington's COVID crisis has begun to stabilize in recent weeks, health officials warn that the state's hospitals are not quite out of the woods yet. 
3 days ago
Eatonville COVID outbreak...
MyNorthwest Staff

Eatonville school goes back to virtual learning over COVID outbreak

Eatonville Middle School sent students home on Friday, and will be temporarily moving back to virtual learning until at least mid-October. 
3 days ago
Amazon Bothell...
Dalton Day

Permits indicate Amazon is behind planned new warehouse in Bothell, despite denial from county

Plans for a 105,000-square-foot warehouse in Bothell named as a “fulfillment center" suggest Amazon is behind the project.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
By Alaska Airlines

Calling all football fans: follow Russell on the road

Take your Northwest spirit that we’re known for on the road this season with Alaska Airlines.
By Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
Unemployed Washingtonians still waiting for answers, some told to send money back