Washington's Unemployment Payouts Are About to Get Even Slower squib

More hoops to jump through for the unemployed. by Matt Baume
People who've just lost their jobs now have more things to worry about. PeopleImages/Getty Images

Waiting for an unemployment insurance payout? Well, you'll have to wait just a little bit longer now, thanks to identity thieves who are raiding Washington's Employment Security Department funds. (And also, capitalism. Everything's thanks to capitalism.)

"Since the beginning of May, the Employment Security Department (ESD) has been experiencing a dramatic rise in incidents of 'imposter fraud,'" the ESD said in a statement this week. As a result, they're imposing an additional one-to-two-day wait period so that they can investigate claims more closely.

Or, to put it another way: UGHHHHHHHHHH.

The process of getting unemployment checks has already been a massive headache for everyone involved — especially for people who have weird modern forms of work, like delivering for Postmates or crowdfunding through Kickstarter. Washington's unemployment system (and really every state's system) is clunky, old-fashioned, and not at all built for the ways that people earn a living these days, particularly at a time when suddenly millions of people are out of work at the same time.

Compounding the fact that the ESD system is like something out of the movie Brazil, now scammers are taking advantage of the kludged-together system to steal funding from those who need it most. Identity thieves have been opening bank accounts, posing as real people whose Social Security details they stole, and then collecting checks from an agency that lacks sufficient means to verify everyone's identity.

This is particularly problematic when people who actually need unemployment insurance apply, and discover that someone's already been claiming money in their name — which means there's less (or none) available to the real claimant.

The ESD is quick to point out which elements of this problem are not its fault. "There has been no data breach from ESD’s system," writes ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine.

That's great, but it's hard to call a system secure when it's not even sure who it's sending checks to.

In addition to slowing down payments and performing more investigations, ESD is also hiring more investigators and staff for their phone hotline — though it's still notoriously impossible to get through to an actual human after hours on hold. ESD added 100 new operators last week, which is a nice start, but just for comparison, 527,000 people lost their jobs in March.

ESD's also planning to make "changes to our system that will require some customers to verify or provide certain information." In other words, they're taking what is already an onerous process for people out of work and adding even more hoops to jump through.

ESD says they've identified $1.6 million in fraudulent claims in April — not a huge amount, compared to the $1.4 billion paid that month. While these extra delays and steps certainly do suck, they're probably the best ESD can do given their current system.

In totally unrelated news, a study released this month in Finland shows that providing citizens with a guaranteed basic income made their lives better. How about that.

Anyway, that's enough news for today, you'd better get back to filling out 173 pages of forms about your job hunt every week.

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