Workers sue Washington for delayed unemployment payments during fraud fallout

A pair of laid-off workers whose unemployment benefits have been delayed for more than two months during the coronavirus pandemic have sued Washington state.

Filed Friday with the Supreme Court, the lawsuit demands that the Employment Security Department (ESD) release all payments owed to legitimate claimants, arguing that the state agency can’t halt such payments.

ESD recently came under fire for authorizing payment of more than $550 million in fraudulent unemployment claims, as droves of workers sought relief after losing their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

“People understand the COVID virus has presented a major crisis and many systems are overloaded,” said John Tirpak, executive director of the Unemployment Law Project, which is representing the plaintiffs. “People have been patient and know things are not going to happen instantly. But when you have been attempting to claim unemployment since March and it’s already June and there has been no progress, it’s very discouraging.”

One of the plaintiffs, McKeezi Barraza, was laid off in March when the restaurant where she worked was closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“They said it could be anywhere from four to six weeks before I’m paid,” Barraza told the Associated Press. “To me, that’s unacceptable because I couldn’t even pay rent this month for June. I’ve got a few hundred dollars left in my pocket.”

More than 1.1 million people have filed unemployment claims since early March, the ESD said Thursday. Nearly 830,000 have been paid.

The fraudsters used personal identity information culled from hacked data to file unemployment claims and route the payments to their own bank accounts.

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us for advice regarding your unemployment claim, L&I, workers’ compensation or other employment law questions.

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