Employment Security updates Washington Retail on unemployment logjam

Jun 18, 2020
Written by Mark Johnson, Senior Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs

WR has joined other employers in a letter asking Employment Security for updates on its issues regarding a record-breaking logjam of pending unemployment claims from Stay Home Stay Healthy orders.

The concern is what the $5.4 billion currently paid out in benefits will mean to individual business experience tax ratings. The hundreds of thousands of layoffs statewide that resulted from business shutdowns could cause retailers’ tax obligations to skyrocket. This will be most difficult on retailers who are just starting to reopen.

The state Legislature, possibly in a special session later this year, will need to make this issue a priority for the survival of many businesses struggling to pull through the pandemic. Meanwhile, Employment Security is preparing a written response to our letter of concern. We will summarize the response in a later newsletter.

Earlier this week by Skype, I joined Employment Security’s Advisory Committee of which I am a member for further updates.


  • As of Monday, more than 800,000 Washington workers had been paid $5.4 billion in unemployment benefits.
  • The department may have paid out up to $650 million in fraudulent claims to an international identity theft scheme. The department has recovered $333 million of that so far.
  • About 200,000 claims are on hold to verify the identity of some claimants.
  • ESD has hired an additional 450 employees and is working with the National Guard to cut into the pending claims backlog.

Washington entered the pandemic with the 9th best unemployment trust fund in the nation with $4.6 billion in reserves. The committee reported that the fund has dropped to $3.1 billion. Nine other states already have been forced to start borrowing federal funds to replenish their UI reserve accounts.

The next advisory committee meeting is scheduled on August 17.