Washington helps unemployed in Louisiana

The Washington State Employment Security Department has pitched in to help process the unprecedented number of unemployment insurance and disaster-unemployment assistance claims coming from Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The destructive storm has limited the ability of the Louisiana Department of Labor to respond to the needs of its residents. So, Washington and a few other states with sophisticated telecommunications equipment are taking calls through a toll-free number established solely for Louisiana residents.

That number, which is accessible from anywhere in the country, is (800) 818-7811. Louisiana residents also can file a claim over the Internet at http://www.laworks.net.

“The assistance systems in Louisiana are very overwhelmed right now. It feels great to step in from thousands of miles away and play even a small role in helping people get back on their feet,” said Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee.

All of the Louisiana calls are being handled at ESD’s TeleCenter in Seattle. So far, the department has handled about 1,200 calls from Louisiana residents, but the total number of claims processed is somewhat larger.

“A lot of the calls come from shelters where applicants just pass the phone along to the next person in line without hanging up. They’re just so relieved to finally reach someone who can help them,” said Annette Copeland, ESD’s assistant commissioner for unemployment insurance. “Some of the calls involving multiple claims can last several hours – and our folks end up handing the phone off to each other just to take a break.”

Copeland noted that, due to the Louisiana calls, some Washington residents might experience a slight delay in getting their own calls handled, but it shouldn’t be significant.

“We hope people agree that a little wait is okay in order to support the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort,” Copeland said.

Once Washington staff receives the necessary information for Louisiana residents, Louisiana pays the actual benefits.

In addition to processing unemployment applications from Louisiana, Employment Security also has provided office space for Operation Evergreen, created by Gov. Christine Gregoire to coordinate Washington’s assistance to the hurricane recovery effort. Through last Friday, employees from Employment Security and other state agencies received more than 3,500 calls from residents offering donations and other support.