Everything You Need to Know About Unemployment Benefits in Washington State Due to the Coronavirus

Chang Fu
Apr 13, 2020

Washington Unemployment Benefits During COVID-19

As the world economy has come to an unprecedented, sudden, and grinding halt due to COVID-19, millions of men and women across the country have found themselves out of a job, scrambling to make ends meet. And for the people of Washington state, hundreds of thousands of employees now out of work are understandably worried about how they’ll pay their bills while they’re forced to shelter at home.  

Whether you’re unemployed, on furlough, or have had hours reduced, both the federal and state governments have sought to make some amends with provisions to unemployment compensation as well as a stimulus check. But how do you apply for Washington unemployment benefits and when will that stimulus check be on its way? 

This guide will walk you through the situation so you know what to do and expect in this time of great uncertainty, including:

  • Washington Unemployment Benefits During COVID-19
  • Changes to Unemployment Benefits in Washington and Relief for Citizens
  • How to Apply for Unemployment Washington
    • Step 1: Make Sure You Meet the General Eligibility Requirements
    • Step 2: Gather the Relevant Information
    • Step 3: Sign in for eServices
    • Step 4: Ways to Apply for Unemployment Benefits
      • Apply for Unemployment Online
      • Apply for Unemployment by Phone
    • Step 5: Choose Your Unemployment Payment Method
      • Receive Benefits Through Check
      • Receive Benefits Through Direct Deposit
      • Receive Benefits Through Debit Card
    • Step 6: Start Your Job Search (Optional)
  • Unemployment Benefits Per Person (or Household)
  • A Brief Look at the Unemployment Numbers and COVID-19
  • How Do I Get My Federal Stimulus Check?
  • Financial Assistance with Possible Finance

Changes to Unemployment Benefits in Washington and Relief for Citizens

Fortunately, help is on the way. The CARES Act—the $2.2 trillion relief and stimulus package—has both expanded unemployment benefits Washington residents require and also relaxed eligibility rules. According to the Washington State Employment Security Department the major changes are:

  • “Eligibility for unemployment benefits is expanded to include many Washingtonians currently not eligible, including many self-employed people and those that don’t have the typically required 680 hours.
  • An additional $600 per week will be available to nearly everyone on unemployment from March 29 through July 25.
  • Benefits will be extended by 13 weeks, for a maximum of 39 (which is about nine months). This includes people who were already on unemployment as well as those who are newly eligible.”

In addition, Governor Inslee has announced additional relief for businesses, workers, and renters, including:

  • A temporary moratorium on evictions for renters
  • Help with utilities
  • Cash assistance for families with and without children
  • Free school lunches

Although these won’t fix the problem, they should help Washingtonians who are fearful about making rent or paying bills. 

How to Apply for Unemployment Washington

The process for qualifying and applying for unemployment differs from state to state. So, naturally, if you find yourself amongst the rapidly rising number of unemployed full-time employees or gig workers in Washington, you’ll want to know how to file your Washington unemployment application. 

But, as a word of caution, in order to do so, you’ll have to “get in line and be patient” so to speak. There have been reports of the website crashing or long phone hold times due to high call volume. The department is understandably overwhelmed by the sheer number of claims. So, although they’re hiring and making changes to accommodate the influx of weekly claims, there’s only so much they can do. 

You can apply either by phone or online, but because call volumes are so high, it may be faster and easier to apply online. Once you decide how you will apply, you can follow these steps:

Step 1: Make Sure You Meet the General Eligibility Requirements 

Note: Although changes have been made to general eligibility requirements for WA unemployment benefits with the passage of the Federal Stimulus Package, the system is not currently set up to accept the application and won’t be so until mid-April. So, unfortunately, if you’re a gig worker, self-employed, temporarily laid off or had your hours reduced, you’ll have to wait until eligibility has been updated.   

To be eligible before the passage of the bill, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You were laid off, quit for good reason, or fired for reasons other than misconduct.
  • You worked at least 680 hours in your base year.
  • You earned at least a portion of your wages in Washington.

Once the new eligibility requirements are put in place, the criteria will expand to include self-employed workers, gig workers, those who have had hours cut, or their job furloughed. Additionally, the 680 hour minimum requirement will no longer apply.

Step 2: Gather the Relevant Information 

Before you apply for unemployment, Washington residents need to have the following information on hand in order to fill out the application:

  • Your name, number, birth date, contact information, address, and Social Security Number
  • Your work history over the past 18 months, including:
    • Employer name(s)
    • Address(es)
    • Phone number(s)
    • Start and end dates of employment for each employer
  • Bank account number and routing number if you sign up for direct deposit

Make sure you have as much detail ready to go before you begin. False or inaccurate information can lead to denial of unemployment benefits or even fines.

Step 3: Sign in for eServices

In order to apply for unemployment online, you’ll need to create a Secure Access Washington (SAW) account. You’ll create your account here, and will have to enter your:

  • Legal first and last name
  • Email address
  • Username
  • Password
  • Security questions

Once the account is registered, you’ll be set to apply. 

Note: Even if you’re planning on applying for unemployment benefits via phone, it’s a good idea to set up your online account beforehand. Weekly unemployment claims will be handled through your online account.

Step 4: Ways to Apply for Unemployment Benefits

Once you have your online account set up, it’s time to apply. As with most states, Washington is experiencing call overload and heavy traffic on their site, so if possible, try both options until you get through.

Apply for Unemployment Online

You are able to apply online 24/7 using eServices and must do so on a laptop or desktop (mobile devices aren’t accepted). To apply, follow this link, sign in to your SAW account and then fill out the relevant information. After applying, you’ll receive a confirmation page that informs you that your application was successfully sent as well as a verification email. 

Apply for Unemployment by Phone

Remember, call times are slow, but you can call the claims center Monday – Friday from 8 am to 4 pm, and on Saturday from 8 am to 4 pm. The number to call is: (800) 318-6022. When calling by phone, be sure to have all your relevant information on hand, as this will make the process run smoother.

Step 5: Choose Your Unemployment Payment Method 

After your application has been submitted, you’ll need to wait and see whether you’re eligible for benefits and how much. Once that’s done, you’ll be required to choose your payment method:

Receive Benefits Through Check

You could simply receive a check by mail. If this is your only option, then you can choose this. However, remember that this would require you to keep the check safe and deposit it regularly. For more secure options, officials recommend having the money directly deposited into your account or to choose the debit card option.

Receive Benefits Through Direct Deposit

To sign up for direct deposit follow these steps:

  • Sign in to eServices
  • Go to the “About me” section 
  • Click update
  • In the “I want to” section, select “update payment information” 
  • Choose “direct deposit” and then follow the given instructions. 

This will allow the unemployment benefits to be directly deposited into your account without having to do any additional work. It’s also the most secure option.

Receive Benefits Through Debit Card

A debit card is most people’s preferred method since it’s easier and safer than a check. To sign up to receive your unemployment benefits by debit card follow these steps.

To begin, you will need to follow similar instructions as direct deposit:

  • Sign in to eServices
  • Go to the “About me” section 
  • Click update
  • In the “I want to” section, select “update payment information”
  • Choose the “debit card” and then follow the given instructions.

The debit card will then be mailed to your address for normal VISA usage.

Step 6: Start Your Job Search (Optional)

Typically, in order to receive Unemployment Insurance, you have to be applying for jobs. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this rule has been switched to optional. According to the ESD, “This measure will be retroactive to March 8, 2020, and will continue until further notice. There are many employers still hiring, even now, so we encourage anyone who has been laid off to continue in their job search through WorkSource or other online job search websites.”

Unemployment Benefits Per Person (or Household)

It’s worth noting that Washington will have the 2nd highest annualized unemployment benefits

“According to the newly-released study from Zippia, a career resource website, those earning less than $61,570 would actually qualify for more in unemployment benefits than their normal wages through July 31. The study also shows that Washington ranks second in the United States for the most annualized unemployment benefits due to COVID-19, with maximum benefits paying $72,280.”

So, what are the max benefits you can receive? 

In Washington, your weekly benefit depends on your earnings in your base year. The weekly maximum weekly benefit is $790 and the minimum is $188 (or $1580 maximum per household and $376 minimum per household). Also, you may be eligible for the additional $600 weekly unemployment benefit provided by the CARES Act (see section: How Do I Get My Federal Stimulus Check below for more info). 

To estimate your benefits, input your earnings into the calculator on the Washington State Unemployment website.   

A Brief Look at the Unemployment Numbers and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest global crisis of its kind in living memory, and that’s no exaggeration. The only events that have even come close in terms of worldwide scale over the last century have been the World Wars, the Great Depression, and of course, the 1918 Spanish Flu. But even with those ignominious events, the sheer magnitude of this economic shock caused by the current crisis is unparalleled. 

Before the outbreak, the highest weekly jobless claim was approximately 650,000 Americans. That was at the peak of the Great Recession and the housing crisis of 2009. Those numbers paled in comparison to what we saw in March. According to ING:

We knew that today’s figure was going to be bad, just not quite this bad. There were 3.283 million initial jobless claims for the week ended March 21st  – up 1064.2% on the week before and the highest on record by a factor of nearly 5. We were expecting something a little north of 2 million while the consensus was at 1.7 million.

And this was just the first wave.

Per CNBC, in week 2, “The torrent of Americans filing for unemployment insurance skyrocketed last week as more than 6.6 million new claims were filed, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That brings to 10 million the total Americans who filed over the past two weeks.” Washingtonians didn’t escape this fate. The Washington State Employment Security Department reports the weekly claims of unemployment during March: 

  • March 7th – 6,548 unemployment claims filed
  • March 14 – 14,154 unemployment claims filed
  • March 21 – 128,962 unemployment claims filed
  • March 28 – 181,975 unemployment claims filed 

How Do I Get My Federal Stimulus Check? 

The CARE act provides a one time $1200 check for people who make under $75,000 per year, or $2,400 for a married couple making less than $150,000 per year, with an extra $500 per child under the age of 16.  

But how do you get your check?

To receive it you will need to have filed taxes from this year or the previous one unless you're on social security disability. Per KREM, “The government will use the information on the Form SSA-1099 and Form RRB-1099 to generate the payments. The government has also said it will create a portal in the next couple of weeks where you can input your bank account information.”

When you will receive the check is another matter. If the government already has your direct deposit information from tax filings, you will allegedly have money directly deposited into your account around mid-April. If that information is not on file, you’ll have to wait for a physical check, which will likely take longer. 

Financial Assistance with Possible Finance 

So, now you know how to apply for unemployment. But what do you do if you’re in a tight spot and won’t be eligible until the Washington unemployment website can be updated? Well, there are other COVID financial support resources available as well as Possible Finance.

Fortunately for you, Possible Finance continues to provide installment loans to existing and new customers throughout the pandemic. Even if you have bad credit, you can borrow up to $500 instantly. It only takes a few minutes to apply, get approved, and receive funds. 

At Possible Finance, we understand that you may be in a tough situation. We’re here to help you access money with ease and improve your financial health.


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Seattle PI. Study: Washington ranks 2nd for state with highest annualized unemployment benefits. https://www.seattlepi.com/coronavirus/article/Study-Washington-ranks-2nd-for-state-with-15185124.php

Employment Security Department Washington State. Unemployment Benefits. https://esd.wa.gov/unemployment

KREM. What to know about unemployment, stimulus checks in Washington and Idaho. https://www.krem.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/unemployment-stimulus-bills-washington-idaho/293-77a9a51d-6c39-40f2-bb62-eac916e37d8a

Chang Fu

Chang is an avid writer, among other things. He grew up loving reading and writing, creating his own poems and even a book he's now hidden in an old closet, unpublished. His financial experience at a large bank along with his passion for technology to help underserved communities inspired him to write for Possible.

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