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Gov. Inslee signs bills to help Washington’s unemployed residents

The Capitol Building in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

With a sweep of the governor’s pen, a set of bills aimed at helping improve the state’s unemployed residents became law on Friday.

The governor signed Substitute House Bill 1455, Substitute House Bill 1493, and Substitute Senate Bill 5425, all of which passed the Legislature last week.

House, Senate pass set of bills to improve Employment Security system

Requested by the Employment Security Department, Substitute House Bill 5425 adds weeks of federally-funded extended benefits for people who have been on unemployment for a year, and speeds up the process of getting those benefits out by eliminating the usual waiting period.

“It ensures that Washingtonians get their benefits without disruption,” Governor Jay Inslee said as he added his signature. “These benefits are essential due to Washingtonians who are out of work due to COVID-19 and the associated economic downturn.”

Substitute House Bill 1493 expands the flexibility around the unemployment job search requirements. Normally, to receive benefits, unemployed Washingtonians must show they are applying for three jobs or performing three job search activities at their local unemployment office each week.

This mandate has been suspended during the pandemic by Governor Inslee and the Legislature due to a lack of available positions and in-person job search opportunities. However, when the provision comes back, ESD will have more control over it, including the ability to eliminate or reduce job search requirements for the whole state or a single region in any future times of crisis.

For example, if a wildfire occurred in Chelan County that decimates the job market in Central Washington, but has little effect on the Puget Sound, the department could quickly change the job search requirement for just that area. Previously, this decision needed to go through the governor and legislators.

Additionally, as the state begins readjusting to normal when the pandemic ends, the bill will allow ESD to be more flexible in determining what counts as a job search activity. For example, an unemployed person could write a cover letter and attach it, or watch a YouTube video about job interview tips and provide the link.

“This will help thousands of workers recovering from COVID-19’s significant economic disruption with a more customized set of job search requirements,” Inslee said.

Inspired by last year’s fraud attack, which the State Auditor’s reports recently stated could have lost the state more than $1 billion in unemployment funds, Substitute House Bill 1455 limits when Employment Security, as well as the Department of Labor and Industries, can use people’s full social security numbers in written communication.

“This bill can provide additional protection against fraud and increase personal privacy,” Inslee said. “Minimizing the use of full security numbers is in the best interest of Washingtonians.”

Beginning in 2023, the two departments will not be able to use full social security numbers in correspondence with non-governmental third parties, except in financial transactions, secure or encrypted messages, or situations where the full numbers are required by law.

ESD told KIRO Radio it agrees with the intent of this bill and will work to implement it as smoothly as possible.

A fourth bill aimed at providing a set of reforms for ESD has passed both chambers of the Legislature, but still needs final approval from the Senate before it can had to the governor’s desk.

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