Washington approved for Lost Wages Assistance program

Washington has been added to the list of states approved for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Association under its Lost Wages Assistance program.

The money will allow the state to provide an additional $300 per week to those currently unemployed due to COVID-19, on top of regular unemployment payments. It is an emergency measure to provide extra benefits for three weeks — the funds are retroactive to the week ending Aug. 1.

The Employment Security Department applied for the grant last week. It comes from a different pot of money than the $600 per week the federal government authorized under the CARES Act. That benefit expired at the end of July.

“We will implement this as quickly as possible to distribute the extra payments to Washingtonians once our application is approved,” ESD commissioner Suzi LeVine said. “Any additional funds to help unemployed workers are welcome – and we estimate that this will provide more than $400 million to families, individuals and our state’s economy.

“It is important however, to emphasize that this benefit is currently time-limited to those filing claims over a three-week period, between July 26 and Aug. 15, 2020, and not everyone who has filed an unemployment claim will be eligible. We will continue to work with FEMA and the U.S. Department of Labor to pursue any additional funds for Washingtonians that may remain after the initial three-week period of benefits are distributed.”

Claimants will have to self-certify that they are unemployed or partially unemployed because of the disruptions COVID-19 has had on businesses.

Washington’s unemployment number went up slightly in July, rising from 10 percent to 10.3 percent despite adding 44,500 jobs. The state’s unemployment rate nearly mirrors the national rate of 10.2 percent. Kitsap County’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate is 9.5 percent.

“Although payroll job growth continued in July, the pace at which the jobs were added slowed,” said Paul Turek, ESD economist. “Over the last three months, nearly half of the jobs lost during the pandemic have come back, but there remains a long way to go.”

Initial claims rise

Meanwhile, after four consecutive weeks of decline, the number of initial unemployment claims filed in Kitsap County rose ever-so-slightly during the week ending Aug. 15 from 518 to 538. Statewide initial claims are still historically high, 338 percent above the same week in 2019.

Overall, Washington saw initial claims fall slightly to 21,942, a decrease of 0.9 percent. There were 589,631 total claims for all unemployment categories, down 3.7 percent from the prior week. King County saw a 2 percent decrease from 6,002 to 5,860.

Since the week ending March 7, when the job losses began due to COVID, the ESD has paid over one million people who have filed an initial claim, which is nearly a third of the state’s workforce. A total of $9.7 billion in benefits have been paid and 1,302,868 distinct individuals have filed for some form of unemployment benefits.

The industries with the highest number of initial claims during the week ending Aug. 15 were accommodation and food services (2,499 claims, up 12 percent); manufacturing (2,264 claims, down 21 percent); health care and social assistance (2,031 claims, up 6 percent); construction (1,884 initial claims, up 8 percent); and retail trade (1,770 initial claims, up 1 percent).