Washington puts moratorium on evictions, expands unemployment, hiring for Spokane Valley call center

click to enlarge YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
For the many thousands impacted by statewide closures of public places to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Jay Inslee announced new measures to help.

First, there will be a moratorium on residential evictions for 30 days that are solely due to not paying rent. Other evictions for crimes and nuisance issues would be unaffected.

The federal government also "directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days due to the COVID-19 outbreak."


Inslee also asked utilities to follow in the footsteps of others who'd already voluntarily started waiving late fees and shutoffs for customers who can't pay, as well as offering payment plans to get them back on track.

Another significant part of Inslee's announcements on Wednesday included waiving the one-week waiting period to get unemployment insurance payouts, which retroactively applies to those who started applying for unemployment on March 8 (when Inslee mandated the closure of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues).

"As you know we’re experiencing a rapidly growing number of workers who are off the job for longer than their time-off benefits will allow for," Inslee says. "This will help get money into their pocket as soon as possible."

Inslee has also asked the Trump administration to declare a natural disaster, which would allow the state to issue disaster unemployment benefits to people who worked fewer than 680 hours in the last year.


UNEMPLOYMENT

Currently, however, people need to have worked at least 680 hours over the last year, or about 13 hours per week, to qualify for unemployment. That can be across separate employers, and there may be some wiggle room to look slightly farther back into someone's work history if they had a break in employment, explains Nick Demerice, public affairs director for the Washington Employment Security Department.

Typically, unemployment will provide people about 50 percent of their normal income, Demerice says. 

Since Inslee's announcement of statewide closures Sunday night, the department has been receiving massive amounts of phone calls. The actual number of applications filed won't be available for a little more than a week, but on Monday and Tuesday, the department's website had about half a million hits, compared to a typical 30,000 or so, Demerice says.

The department is quickly shifting staff from other areas to help process unemployment insurance claims.


"We’re expanding hours, we’ve authorized our folks to work more, and we're bringing on extra staff," Demerice says. "We absolutely can handle it, it’ll just take a while to ramp up. We're doing absolutely everything we can."

One of the expansions to unemployment — allowing part-time employees to qualify for temporary layoff assistance known as "standby" for up to eight weeks — has caused a lot of confusion among applicants.

Typically, that is only available for full-time employees who have been temporarily laid off. They're allowed to apply for four weeks of unemployment and don't have to look for jobs during that time, as it's understood they'll be returning to the same position. That can be extended for another four weeks.

Currently, part-time employees can qualify too, so long as they worked 680 hours over the last year.

But the state's online application system hasn't been updated to reflect that yet, Demerice says, so many are applying online, getting an automated denial, and then picking up the phone.

"We received over 19,000 calls yesterday. That's a lot," Demerice says. "We’re contacting those folks and letting them know that’s a technology issue we’re going to fix. But for now, we will reach out to you."

Aka, you do not need to call to check on that denial, as staff are manually working around the system and reaching out to applicants, Demerice says.

Because of the increase in calls, the department is also hiring more staff for its call centers, including one in Spokane Valley. Those are good, stable, state jobs, he says, and those who are out of work are encouraged to apply.

Worksource locations will also be closed to in-person appointments starting today, he says. Those appointments and requirements will be available online. It wasn't yet clear what options there would be for people who don't have internet service during this time when many libraries are closed.

Many other frequently asked questions are answered on the department's website.

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...