Unemployment claims fall statewide as officials tout fraud prevention measures

Initial unemployment claims fell sharply both in Washington and Kitsap County during the week of May 17 through May 23, the most recent week that has available data, according to officials at the Washington State Employment Security Department.

The new numbers available show a total of 1,398 initial claims were made in Kitsap County during that week, well below the spike of 3,795 from the week prior. Similar drops were found in the state’s biggest counties — King, Snohomish, Pierce, Spokane and Clark — as well.

At the statewide level, there were 48,445 initial regular unemployment claims, which is down 65 percent from the prior week, and a total of 1,497,591 claims for all benefits categories.

Employment Security Department officials believe the decrease in claims was attributable to the fraud prevention put in place to combat fraudulent unemployment claims.

“In recent weeks, at the same time we have taken aggressive measures to tackle the increase of imposter fraud in our system, we have stayed laser-focused on helping every Washingtonian with a valid claim get the benefits they deserve,” said ESD Commissioner Suzy LeVine. “Meanwhile, our team continues to work with federal law enforcement to go after the criminals perpetrating the fraud, help the victims and recoup the money.”

“The dramatic decline in initial claims this week is a strong signal that the additional steps we are taking to address imposter fraud are working. We’ve already recovered and stopped the payments of hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims in the past two weeks, and we will continue to reclaim every dollar we can,” said LeVine.

Since the week ending March 7, which is when COVID-19 job losses began, nearly 2 million initial claims have been field. 1,252,608 regular unemployment insurance claims were filed, 397,845 were Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims and 345,084 were Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensations claims.

Washington ESD has paid out nearly $4.7 billion in benefits since the pandemic began.

The industries with the high number of claims this week were health care and social assistance (5,313 initial claims); retail trade (4,236 initial claims); accommodation and food services (3,765 initial claims); manufacturing (3,661 initial claims); and educational services (3,109 initial claims). However, each of these industries saw at least a 39 percent drop from the previous week, and in some cases, claims were down as much as 82 percent.