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Employment Security Department: Frequently asked questions - July 7, 2013

Unemployment-insurance benefits

Q.

What is the current unemployment rate?

A.

Employment Security publishes the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate once a month on the labor-market information section of our website. The seasonally adjusted statewide data are usually published the third Wednesday of the month. Non-seasonally adjusted data for each county are published the following Tuesday.


Q.

How can someone apply for unemployment benefits? Why are the telephone and computer the only options?

A.

Workers who lose their job through no fault of their own can apply for unemployment benefits online (24 hours a day) or by phone at 800-318-6022 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday). Telephones and computers are available at all WorkSource employment centers.
Telephone and the Internet are the primary options for filing unemployment claims because they allow us to provide higher-quality and generally faster customer service. When we used to provide this service at local offices, customers often had to wait in lines for several hours.

We also use a standard script on the phone and online that allows us to capture accurate information faster. This results in a shorter application process and gets benefits to unemployed workers faster.


Q.

How are unemployment benefits calculated? What are the highest, lowest and average benefit amounts?

A.

Unemployment benefits are calculated based on earnings. To calculate the benefit amount: 
1.     Add the total wages for the two highest quarters in the past year*.
2.     Divide the total by two.
3.     Multiply by 0.0385.

This is the weekly benefit amount, up to a maximum that is established in state law.

For July 2014-June 2015 fiscal year, the weekly minimum and maximum for regular benefits are $151 and $637.

A person can collect regular unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks.

Note: In 2008, as unemployment rates rose across the country, Congress approved Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) for people who ran out of regular benefits. At its peak, this program provided up to 53 additional weeks of benefits in Washington, on top of regular unemployment benefits for qualified applicants; the maximum total decreased to 47 weeks in April 2012, then to 37 weeks on Sept. 2, 2012. The entire program is scheduled to end on Dec. 28, 2013 – although Washington state may trigger off the program sooner due to its declining unemployment rate. For more about EUC and extended benefits (which can pay up to 20 additional weeks during periods of high unemployment), see the "Emergency Unemployment Compensation & Extended Benefits" fact sheet.
 
* Benefits are calculated based on wages from an individuals base year, not the calendar year. The base year is the first four of the last five calendar quarters.


Q.

Who’s eligible/not eligible for unemployment benefits?

A.

To be eligible for benefits, a person must have worked at least 680 hours during his or her base year and must have lost a job through no fault of his or her own. To remain eligible each week, the claimant must be physically able to work, available for work and actively seeking suitable work (see “What are the requirements to remain on unemployment?” below). There are few exceptions to this general rule. For example, victims of domestic violence or stalking who voluntarily leave work to protect themselves or their families also may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Individuals who leave their jobs because the spouse or domestic partner is transferred also may be eligible for benefits. These individuals must work as long as they can before the transfer. 


Q.

Are people who own their own businesses eligible for unemployment benefits?

A.

Individuals who own a business or are members of limited partnerships or limited liability companies are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

Corporate officers are covered by unemployment insurance unless the corporation exempts the officers from coverage by January 15. Only certain officers are eligible to be exempted.

Officers cannot get unemployment benefits if they own at least 10 percent of the business or are related to another corporate officer who owns at least 10 percent of the business.

See the Corporate officer requirements fact sheet for more information. (Note: Under legislation adopted in 2013, the corporate-officer law will change at the start of 2014. The fact sheet will be updated by fall of 2013.) 


Q.

What are the requirements to remain on unemployment?

A.

People who collect unemployment must be able to work, available for work and actively seeking suitable work. They must verify that they are meeting these requirements by filing a claim each week. Claims can be filed online (24 hours a day) or by phone at 800-318-6022 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday). Most claimants are required to engage in at least three "work-search activities," which includes applying or interviewing for a job and/or taking workshops through their local WorkSource employment center every week while they collect benefits. Members of full-referral unions must comply with their union’s dispatch rules.


Q.

What about people who are out of state or on vacation? Are they eligible for unemployment benefits? How do you review their compliance?

A.

People who live in other states and worked in Washington may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits in Washington. They are still subject to job-search requirements, which are verified through the department's audit program. If an individual goes on vacation and is not available for work while collecting benefits, he or she must report it when filing the weekly claim. Individuals on vacation are not considered able and available to work, and are not eligible for benefits that week.


Q.

Do you really check to see if people are complying? How many people receiving unemployment benefits are reviewed for compliance?

A.

Employment Security does verify that people are looking for work while collecting benefits. In a typical year, we interview more than 60,000 claimants to confirm that they were looking for work.  Every year, thousands of individuals do not report for their required interviews, and we identify thousands more who are not actively seeking work. In both cases, the individuals must pay back part or all of their benefits, depending on their specific circumstances.


Q.

How can someone notify Employment Security about suspected fraud?

A.

Suspected unemployment benefit or tax fraud can be reported by calling (toll-free) 866-266-1987 or online. Also, people can use the suspectfraud.com website to report fraud against the Employment Security Department, the Department of Revenue and/or the Department of Labor & Industries.


Q.

What do you do if you find people collecting unemployment benefits who shouldn’t receive them? Do you issue fines or other penalties? 

A.

Employment Security has an aggressive fraud-detection program to prevent people from collecting benefits to which they are not entitled. The agency uses a variety of techniques to catch people, including cross-matching records with the Social Security Administration and the state Department of Labor & Industries. Employment Security also compares unemployment records to the state and national list of new hires, and investigates tips from the public.
 
Those who are caught collecting benefits they shouldn’t receive must pay back the money, with interest, and will be denied benefits for 26 weeks. State law also imposes a monetary fine for repeat offenders and disqualification periods of one to two years.

An individual who is disqualified for benefits for the first time also is disqualified for an additional 26 weeks. An individual disqualified for benefits a second time is disqualified for an additional 52 weeks of benefits and must pay a penalty equaling 25 percent of the amount overpaid. An individual disqualified for benefits a third and any time after is disqualified for 104 weeks and must pay a penalty equal to 50 percent of the amount overpaid.


Q.

Does Employment Security know how much is issued each year in excess unemployment benefits?

A.

Each year, the department audits a sample of unemployment claims to measure the accuracy of the benefit payment system. In 2011, an internal audit sampled 488 people (out of more than 441,000 claimants that year) and found that 89.5 percent were paid accurately. Overpayments were found in 10.9 percent of the reviewed claims. About 89 percent of overpayments occur because inaccurate information is provided by claimants or by employers. Common issues include claimants not reporting or misreporting earnings, not telling the truth about why they lost their jobs and employers misreporting wages on quarterly tax reports. Another primary cause of overpayments is claimants not actively looking for work while collecting benefits.

Agency errors, such as approving training for claimants who were not eligible and data-entry mistakes, account for a very small percentage of all overpayments.


Q.

How do Washington's unemployment benefits compare nationally?

A.

In 2011, Washington had the fourth-highest benefit rate in the nation. This is largely because Washington is a high-wage state and benefit rates are based on income. Washington ranked ninth in the nation for the percentage of the average weekly wage that is actually replaced by weekly benefit payments, at 38.8 percent.


Q.

What’s the average length of time people collect unemployment insurance in Washington?

A.

On average, people collected unemployment benefits for 30.1 weeks in 2012. During normal economic times, an individual may collect regular unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. However, due to the recession, two extended-benefit programs were available in Washington state for several years, giving eligible unemployed workers access to up to 99 weeks of benefits. Beginning in April 2012, the extended benefits programs began phasing out and will halt entirely by the end of 2013. 


Q.

What is disaster unemployment assistance?

A.

Disaster unemployment assistance is available to people who are unemployed due to a disaster and who are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits. These include business owners and corporate officers, people who were injured in the disaster and cannot work, people who are prevented from starting a new job due to the disaster, and those who became head of their household due to a death caused by the disaster. If a disaster occurs, the Governor must request special assistance from the President. The President must then approve and sign a declaration. Disaster unemployment assistance is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 



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