LOCAL NEWS

Head of WA unemployment office leaving to join Biden administration

Jan 22, 2021, 11:22 AM | Updated: Jan 26, 2021, 2:07 pm
Inslee, LeVine, inslee unemployment, job...
Gov. Jay Inslee alongside ESD Commissioner Suzie LeVine. (ESD, Facebook)
(ESD, Facebook)

The head of Washington state’s unemployment office is leaving for a job with the Biden-Harris administration.

In a statement, Governor Jay Inslee praised Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine for leading the department “through an extremely challenging time,” and drew attention the “successful implementation” of the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program during her tenure.

Criticism and strategizing for Employment Security before Legislature

LeVine was appointed to head the ESD in 2018 by Gov. Inslee, and confirmed by the state Senate in the following legislative session. Her tenure was marked by unprecedented unemployment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to massive fraud and delays in getting payments to Washington residents over the course of the last year.

It’s unclear at this time what job LeVine is taking with the new administration, but she has served as an ambassador for the U.S. government in the past. She will be leaving at the end of January, with her new position effective Feb. 1, 2021.

Cami Feek, currently the agency’s deputy commissioner and chief operating officer, will step in as acting commissioner for the ESD until a permanent replacement is appointed by the governor.

Senator Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who sits on the committee that oversees the ESD and has been a vocal critic of the department’s failures, tells KIRO Radio that LeVine should’ve stepped down gracefully a long time ago.

“I’m very disappointed that the Biden administration chose to reward incompetence,” Schoesler said. “The honorable thing would’ve been to resign months ago.”

He believes this job was a political favor from Governor Inslee.

“I think it’s no coincidence that the governor’s chief of staff is on the Biden transition team, and they found a soft landing place for an incompetent [ESD commissioner], but effective Democrat bundler.”

Schoesler says his office and the offices of all of his colleagues in the Legislature have been doing the ESD’s job for them, answering pleas from constituents who have not received their unemployment and cannot get through to the ESD.

“Our office has tirelessly worked to make this happen,” Schoesler said. “Our legislative assistants … didn’t sign up to be the auxiliary arm of ESD, but they did it.”

The Unemployment Law Project, which represents claimants at their appeal hearings and has been suing ESD over the unemployment backlog, is hopeful that this will bring about a new era for unemployed Washingtonians.

“We’re hoping that the departure will give Governor Inslee an opportunity to appoint a person who can better manage the system … there is a tremendous opportunity here now, with new leadership, to really be able to improve on a system that really needs a massive overhaul,” said John Tirpak, the executive director of the nonprofit.

The ULP believes that under LeVine’s leadership, the department did not do a great job of responding to claimants’ questions and getting funds out quickly. Tirpak noted that they are still hearing from people who have been waiting since March — nearly a year — to receive their unemployment benefits.

“It was an unprecedented challenge for the department, but the response was not effective,” he said. “There was time to provide adequate staffing and to upgrade systems to provide access, and some efforts were made, but it was not enough.”

Sen. Phil Fortunato took a different tone in his response to the news.

“I didn’t see what position the outgoing commissioner will be taking in the new administration, but I think she’d be a perfect fit for the ambassador to Nigeria,” he said.

This was likely in reference to the Nigerian scammers behind the fraud attack.

“There’s a strategy in corporate America that if you have an incompetent manager, you promote them to a job where they can’t do any harm,” Fortunato said. “For me, I’d like to thank President Biden because he seems to be helping out our state by promoting incompetence … It’s funny as heck that he’s actually saving us from having to fire her.”

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk and KIRO Radio’s Nicole Jennings contributed to this report.

Local News

mount vernon...
Nicole Jennings

Mt. Vernon Schools exploring shorter summer, more mid-year breaks

The Mount Vernon School District is considering shortening summer vacation and adding more breaks during the school year.
1 day ago
auburn doughnut...
Kevin Ko, KIRO 7 News

Auburn doughnut shop site of multiple crashes

No injuries were reported, but it’s unclear if the driver was hurt. The driver left the scene by the time officers arrived, according to Crossley.
1 day ago
Microsoft...
Heather Bosch

FTC sues to block Microsoft from buying maker of Call of Duty

The FTC is suing to block Microsoft's $69 billion deal to acquire video game company Activision Blizzard, which produces Call of Duty.
1 day ago
Pierce County investigation into Sheriff...
Darren Dedo

Pierce Co. searching for teens who assaulted man on bus

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office said surveillance video showed the suspects boarded the bus at the Spanaway Walmart at 5:07 p.m.
1 day ago
Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer...
Bill Kaczaraba

Gee Scott: Sheriff Ed Troyer is ‘an embarrassment’ to all officers

Gee Scott says "Ed Troyer is an embarrassment to all the men and women of the Pierce County Sheriff's Department."
1 day ago
winter...
L.B. Gilbert

WSDOT: Drivers need to be prepared heading over the passes

After a series of multi-car collisions on the mountain passes, WSDOT says drivers are not prepared to drive in winter weather conditions.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Head of WA unemployment office leaving to join Biden administration