Changes are coming from the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) in July. The first change will require Washingtonians receiving unemployment benefits to once again search for jobs. The job search requirement was temporarily waived during the pandemic because many workers were furloughed or simply had nowhere to go. Starting the week of July 4, new and existing claimants will have to search, and be able and available, for work to receive benefits. The feature allowing claimants to log their work search history never left the ESD website, but it has been optional since the job search requirement was suspended at the beginning of the pandemic. You can read more details about the change here.
The second change coming to ESD in July will cap benefit payments so claimants cannot receive more from state unemployment benefits than they did from their average wages. The change was included in Senate Bill 5061, which provided $1.73 billion in relief for businesses through the unemployment system. Your state Government Affairs team got to work right away on the bill to ensure it would be passed ahead of 2021’s first quarterly payment and it was the first bill of the session signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Feb. 8, 2021. Employers will continue to see the effects of this bill after the benefit cap goes into effect — the bill also capped social tax rates and eliminated the solvency surcharge through 2025.
The third change coming in July will increase benefits for some unemployed workers in Washington. The ESD released a statement that explained state law ties unemployment benefit amounts to the state’s average annual wage, which “grew by 10.1 percent in 2020 to $76,741—representing the largest percentage increase in the average annual wage year over year on record.” As a result, the minimum weekly unemployment benefit, calculated at 20% of the average weekly wage, will increase by $94 to $295, while the maximum weekly benefit, which is the greater of $496 or 63% of the average weekly wage, will increase by $85 to $929. The $300 federal pandemic benefit also remains in effect until September.
While the benefit amounts are increasing for some, the cap will prevent benefits from exceeding their former wages. There is still a requirement to be able and available for work. This means claimants cannot refuse a job offer to stay on unemployment. Employers should document job offers they have made and report refusals to work to cut down on unemployment fraud.