Adventures in Pandemic Unemployment

You may know me as a contributing community writer for Living Snoqualmie, but by day I am a small business owner. Sixteen years ago, I started my own business working as a dog trainer/dog walker.

Like many others around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic put me out of work in late March. In the beginning, I thought I would rely on savings and my stimulus check to tide me over until I could return to work, but then I heard about the CARES Act (The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.) Looking into it I learned that as a self-employed worker who’s lost income in the crisis, I now qualified for unemployment benefits.

Great! I got unemployment once before. I know how this works. I’ll just go online and bingo-bango, I’ll have some money.

Little did I know how wrong I was…

My significant other has a term for those days when nothing goes right and a tremendous amount of effort is needed to do every task, all day. He calls it a ‘Brute Force’ day.

My experience with the Washington State Employment Security Department, has been a brute force ordeal.

Now I’ll admit, I didn’t do everything right. Typically, I’m the kind of person who starts something without reading the directions. So, I jumped before anyone said frog. As soon as I heard self-employed were eligible, I applied and was denied, but oddly got a debit card I didn’t remember asking for.

Hmmm. By that time, I knew when and how to apply – so that denial wasn’t a surprise and I patiently waited for the right time to file.

When that day came, self-employed people were told to apply for regular benefits and when they were denied, they would then be given the option to apply for PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.) I spent a frustrating two hours trying and failing to fill out the application, but hey many of us were trying, no biggie.

After being kicked off repeatedly, I managed to finish and waited to hear back. The next day I got a message asking if I was ‘able and available’ to work. Not knowing what to say (I mean I am but there is no work??)

I filled out the form as best I could and sent it back. Three days later I got a Pandemic Unemployment Claim Determination with a weekly amount and a phone number to call if I needed help.

That’s a bit of foreshadowing there…

I logged in to the ESD website a couple of times over the next week to see if there was any new information or evidence that my claim was being processed. There was none. People who filed the same day me were getting paid, but I still had nothing.  

I filed my weekly claim the following weekend and waited. Exploring my e-services account more thoroughly I found, under pending issues, my claim was in ‘adjudication’ (additional fact finding) and that one of the reasons might be they needed to contact my employer.

“Well that’s me,” I thought, and waited for an email or a call to clear it up. I emailed several times, but never managed to contact anyone.  Someone directed me to a Facebook support group (Thanks Anna!), which I joined and found people who had been in adjudication for 8 and 9 weeks!

What??

Apparently waiting for a call was not really a viable option. In order to get any action on your claim you had to advocate for yourself and try to get through to an operator.

Checking the Employment Security Department’s account on Twitter, I saw tales of people calling for nine hours straight and never getting through. Thinking it was perhaps an exaggeration I decided to try for myself and after 103 one second phone calls in 10 minutes I realized, nope this is real.

About a hundred years ago there was a show on MTV called The Basement Tapes. It was “A showcase of videos by unknown, unsigned artists and groups” and a contest where the winner got a recording contract. When I was a very young, starry eyed teen I sat in the office of the local band Rail with business manager and auto dialed them to victory. Thinking there had to be a better way now, I found and installed an auto re-dialer app on my phone.

Oh, it’s ON Employment Security!

Setting the re-dialer to try 500 times, I sat back, fooled around on Facebook and finally managed to get through after only 60 phone calls. I then was on hold for 1 hour 46 minutes, listening to the worst elevator music ever, before talking to the nicest lady working from home. She immediately saw what was the matter and fixed it.

My adjudication went away and I went from pending to processing to paid, YAY! (Let me say very quickly here that I KNOW this is not the fault of the employees and that they are working very hard to help all of us, Thank you!)

But wait there’s more!

Remember that debit card I got back at the beginning of this tale? Well I had to activate it online. After entering in all my numbers, it told me to create a four-number pin, which I did, only to have them refuse that pin and eventually lock me out of my account with the instructions to CALL IN!! Nooooooooooooooooooo!

$%&^*(@!!

I dutifully called. I really did. I held another hour and 36 minutes but my ear got hot and I just couldn’t do it anymore. So, I went back in to my ESD account and changed my settings to direct deposit.

A few days later, I got my one-and-only email from them saying that was fine going forward, but the 6 weeks they had paid me already was on the debit card and could not be moved. Sigh. Still I persisted and finally managed to change my pin via their automated system finally giving me access to my money.

Victory is mine!!! Not so fast Melissa, the universe isn’t quite done with you yet.

I filed one more claim without incident. Then on Friday May 15th I got a notice saying they were going to pay me more. Great! The very next day I got another notice asking why I didn’t claim for the weeks before I was actually allowed to claim and that they may require me to repay $2,790. Other Claimants were asked to upload copies of their ID apparently because of a Nigerian fraud ring. I am back in adjudication and no benefits have been paid since that day.

Really? A Nigerian fraud ring? Sigh…. So if anyone from Employment Security is reading this, I’m from Washington, not Nigeria, I swear! Help a girl out, I can’t listen to your terrible hold music anymore.

Comments

  1. What’s the link for the support group on Facebook?

  2. Traci Smith says

    Sister I feel the pain. I work part-time at the Northwest Railway Museum Depot and we closed a little earlier than the Stay Home order. My financials are not strained at this point so I waited (I know–face palm) a couple of weeks to file. When I was told to make a SAW account the trouble started,as did the error messages. I’ve been trying to get past “We’re sorry. Our system is experiencing technical issues.Our team is aware and working to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. Please try again later.” since late March. Attempts by phone are met with a similar “Too may callers.Call back” Click. It’s unreal that the benefits that I’ve (we’ve) earned are inaccessible to us,but what I should have been receiving is going on safari. I’m utterly gobsmacked at this farce, but will continue to beat my head against this wall until A) I break through to EDS or B) die,apparently.

    • Melissa grant says

      I would install and try an auto redialer. Its the only way I got through, although I haven’t even tried for this last snafu. Good Luck!

    • In case you’re still having the “Our system is experiencing technical issues” problem, I wanted to share how I got through. I got the same error message repeatedly when I was trying to create my account, but found that it actually had registered my username, even though it said there was an error. I still wasn’t able to log in with my registered username/pass, but I was able to go through their password reset procedure and then it worked. So go to the log in page, type in your username, and “Click here if you are having trouble signing in.” Hopefully they’ll send you a temporary password.

      • Traci Smith says

        Thanks for the suggestion! Unfortunately,my username hasn’t been captured in their system. On the bright side, I’ve not been impacted by a fraudulent account in my name.

  3. ESD finally after 3 months approved me brought me out of adjudication and sent my retroactive payment of $14,000 plus, into an account I had on file with ESD that had limits on direct deposit amounts. The payment was rejected and rerouted back to ESD the same day. As soon as I found out about it I updated my direct deposit info in eservices. Phew. However, trying to contact ESD about the issue, I have not received this payment and I have not heard from them at all. Email after email to any department at ESD for a week straight and still no reply and no payment. I am getting my weekly claims just fine though. I tried calling but same boat as you guys no answer call back. I don’t know what to do but continue to wait. Regardless of the system errors. Does any one ever think how the hell did the Nigerians successfully pose as someone and file a claim with ESD and lightening fast get approved and sail away with all this money? It is taking me an act of God to even get anywhere or speak to anyone at ESD. It is hard those Nigerians are not only fluent in the way these security techniques are but they are crafty magicians to. Either that or the ESD will not admit these are prioritized with how much unemployed people are gauged by whether there an asset to the community or not. Just saying fema put out a lot of funds to make sure the economy does not take a dive. ESD acts like this money comes from there own pockets. Just doesnt make any sense at all. I don’t care how many people call etc. Its mostly automated. Ridiculous.

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