State's unemployed could receive additional benefits

Washington’s unemployed workers could qualify for up to 13 weeks of additional jobless benefits, Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee announced Feb. 12.

The U.S. Department of Labor has notified the state Employment Security Department that Washington qualifies for extended benefits as a result of the rising unemployment rate.

The extended-benefits program is different from the federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program approved by Congress in 2008.

Extended benefits became available starting Feb. 15. They will be paid out only after eligible workers have first used up their emergency unemployment compensation benefits.

The department is in the process of identifying workers who have run out of both their regular and emergency unemployment benefits and will be able to send application packets to them starting the week of Feb. 22, although benefits may be paid retroactively to Feb. 15.

Employment Security officials are asking potential applicants to avoid calling the state’s unemployment call centers, which are already at capacity due to the state’s high claims load. Instead, unemployed workers are asked to wait until they receive an application packet in the mail and then mail applications directly to Olympia. After the applications for extended benefits are received, the department will notify workers if they qualify and how much their benefits will be.

Washington qualified for the extension under state and federal laws because the three-month average for the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was both above 6.5 percent and 10 percent higher than the same period last year. During the three-month period of October, November and December, Washington’s unemployment rate averaged 6.6 percent.