Suzi LeVine ESD June 25, 2020 News Conference Transcript

Video here. Comments: No mention if Deloitte was called to check for data breach. No explanation of how ESD applicants are to differentiate an ESD caller from a scam caller (who could be using the same stolen personal information). No specific information on the “new technologies”. No mention of software problems. No mention of who the out-of-state vendor is for answering calls (although she finally admitted there were out-of-state people answering phones during the question and answer period). Transparency is not full.

You know, a quarter of the year has now been spent in the pandemic. And life has profoundly changed for all of us. The unemployment space is more than 1.1 million Washingtonians or nearly one third of our state’s workforce have applied for unemployment. And more than 2 million initial claims have been filed between regular unemployment and the expanded benefits under the initial claims this week.

We’ve held fairly steady the last three weeks at about 29,000 new unemployment claims. And while there’s a significant drop from our peak, we have leveled off what are still record high numbers, exceeding what we saw in the peak of the recession. The continued high levels of new applications is consistent with other States as the United States has now experienced in total the 14th week in a row of more than a million initial unemployment claims. Within Washington state, nearly 900,000 people have received payments.

But for those who have not, the waiting day by day has been exceptionally challenging. And we know that. It’s those individuals that this agency is staying laser focused on. As we work through the backlog of claims with issues, knowing every claim you resolve brings relief for those individuals and their families.

This week, I’ll start by providing an update on operation 100% and how we’ll be resolving the claims for those who’ve been waiting the longest. What’s the plan.

I’ll also share the incredible progress we’ve made on addressing imposter fraud and touch on new resources and information available about returning to work with the economy reopening.

So I’ll start. Operation 100%. As I mentioned last week, we’ve broadened the scope of operation 100% shifting from the smaller subset of those in adjudication up to May 1st to include all those who have not been paid since the crisis began and who ESD is working with to resolve issues on their claims. Last week, I shared that the baseline is set at June 15th when there was a total of 81,508 individuals waiting for their resolution, which is about 6% of total applicants since the crisis began. We’ve already reduced that queue by about 10,000 people since last week. And the number now stands at 71,679. We’re going to publish this new data to the website today and how it breaks down week after week.

And speaking of weeks, the longest waiting 10,000 applicants among those will be resolved — it is our goal —  by July 6th. The longest waiting 33,000 applicants by July 15th. And our target is to resolve the remaining claims of that 81,000 that we set from that June 15th date, that’s now 71,000 to have those resolved no later than July 31st.

I want to talk about this week and that week and this number and that number. And instead start thinking about it in terms of how many weeks are people waiting on average. The current average time to process claims with issues is just under six and a half weeks. And you can actually see what I call the bump in the pipeline in this slide at that six week mark. By the end of July, we aim to get our processing times to an average of four weeks for claims that have issues on them. For context, the standard times when we aren’t in a crisis or a peak period is three weeks. It’s worth noting right now that does not include those that are processed and paid within a week. This is just those that have an issue that gets set on them. When you do look at those paid within a week, 60% of those initial — of all initial claims are processed and paid within a week. So a majority of people are processed and paid within a week. In February — I think it’s useful to also note that that number was actually at 56%. So just keep that in mind. But when we talk about an average of four weeks to process, it’s only those claims where there are complex issues that have to be resolved by ESD staff, because each of these cases is unique based on your work history, how you answer your questions, how your employer reported your information. It can take some time to resolve.

To meet these goals, we’re doing a few key things. Starting yesterday, doing a heavy focus in our call centers on outgoing calls. And that will persist until July 6th, where we’re limiting inbound calls. This allows our staff to resolve issues for the oldest claims first. You likely remember that we did this back in May and we had great results despite the fact that it was right when the fraud attack happened. Staff at that time resolved 90% more issues on claims than when the phones were open fully for all inbound calling.

We’re going to also, and we actually already put a lot of this in motion, increase efficiencies through new training and technology to maximize our efforts and resolve more issues more quickly.

We also are continuing to split up tasks so that we can activate more staff to do within the agency to be a part of the effort to resolve the claims, those things that can be simplified down and help people train up more quickly. The ID verification was a great example of that. As we were able to train up within just a couple of days and activate hundreds of individuals across the agency to help in that effort and resolve those that were paused payments for the ID verification exercise efforts.

So those are some of the areas that we’re working on around operation 100% to get all those who are waiting the benefits for which they are eligible. And as a reminder, people will be paid retroactive to their date of eligibility. The funds will not run out and people will not miss out.

Now I want to give an update on the fraud efforts that we have. Another thing that’s going to help us to go further and faster on these unresolved claims is that after six weeks of working to tackle the biggest attack of fraud our state has ever experienced, we see very clear evidence that the tactics we put in place are working to do the key three things that we identified.

One, stop the fraud.

Two, help the victims.

And three, recover the money. In terms of stopping the fraud, it doesn’t mean that we are complacent or that the fraud frankly will ever stop. But it does mean that many of the staff that had to swarm on this effort can refocus their energies back to resolving claims for customers that have been waiting the longest.

In terms of helping the victims with the tireless work of our staff and the recent help from the national guard troops, we not only resolved the 42,000 who had been paused that first weekend. That was actually just as of a couple of weeks ago that we had left, but we resolved those, uh, those who had been waiting to be paid from starting from mid-May by our target of last week, but thousands more besides, and we will have all those whose claims were impacted on May 15th with identity verification issues resolved on time by June 30th, along with many others from both before and after that time frame.

Within just the past two weeks in total, we were able to clear a hundred thousand total identity issues and hats off to the guard troops who were able to resolve 8,408 ID verifications in just two days.

Now, as I’ve said before, this effort will never be done. It will always be a race to stay ahead of the criminals, but I’m encouraged by the results of our efforts to stamp out the majority of the fraud. And by the fact that in terms of that third category of recovering the money, we’ve already recovered over $350 million. That we’re continuing to work with financial institutions all across the country and with federal law enforcement in our efforts to stop the criminals and recover the money.

Lastly, I’m going to touch briefly on our return to work efforts and our efforts to help with those who need to refuse work. In terms of this area, this is going to increasingly be a part of the conversation as counties move into phases two and three, under the Governor’s Safe Start Washington plan. While we remained focused on resolving the claims for those who have been waiting the longest, there are people already going back to work or who cannot get yet back to work for COVID-19 related reasons. As the economy reopens, they will either be transitioned off of unemployment as they go back to old jobs, looking for new work or exploring their options to go onto pandemic unemployment assistance or PUA, if they cannot return to work. This week. We launched two new web pages with information for both employers and workers about returning to work and refusing work.

It’s clear that returning to work is going to be complex for many as the pandemic continues. There will be times people must refuse offers of work because they are high risk and no telework options are available, or maybe they have small children at home and the daycare or school is closed due to 19 COVID-19. While our goal is to always get people back to work, it is all about getting back to work safely. And we’re committed to helping Washingtonians do just that. We’ll frequently update those pages and have been sending direct information to claimants and employers to provide the most up to date guidance.

There’s been a lot of progress this week in many areas, but our agency’s number one focus continues to be on getting money into the hands of eligible Washingtonians as quickly as we can. Like I said before, those waiting on us to resolve their claims is 6% of the total pool of applications in this crisis. They’re critical. And we’re putting the lion’s share of our agencies resources towards getting their claims resolved. Despite the historic levels of unemployment, we have not, and we will not lose sight of these individuals knowing that every day that they don’t have resolution on their claim matters deeply. Many of them will get that resolution in the coming days and weeks. And we won’t stop. We will work around the clock until that is true for all of them. With that. I’m happy to take your questions.