A slew of fraudulent claims for unemployment insurance benefits forced Washington state officials to implement new rules that allow the state to cut off weekly payments quickly if they suspect wrongdoing.
The new regulations allow the state to suspend benefits if they suspect fraud and do not receive personal, verifying information from the person receiving the money. Without the verifying information, the suspension can be “indefinite,” according to the state.
The uptick in fraud corresponds with a massive increase in the number of unemployment claims at the office.
According to the Washington Employment Security Department, the phone lines receive nearly 20,000 calls a day from people trying to access unemployment benefits, causing massive delays and long waits. The department reported that it saw a 28 percent increase in the number of claims during the week of May 10 compared with the previous week, sparking suspicions that some of those claims have been fraudulent.
It’s a deep well. That week, ESD paid $1.01 billion in benefits.
Property tax relief?
The deadline to pay property taxes is coming fast, causing King County to consider a proposal to lessen the burden on taxpayers hurt by the economic fallout of the coronavirus.
The legislation, floated by King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, would let households spread out their property tax payments in five installments over the course of six months rather than require them to pay one lump sum. Typically, property taxes are due in two large payments over the course of the year.
King County Executive Dow Constantine extended the deadline from April 30 to June 1, but that’s not enough, Dunn said in a press release.
“In our current crisis, a mere delay on property taxes isn’t enough to meet the great financial need of many King County residents,” Dunn said. “We should act now to help taxpayers who are doing everything they can to make ends meet, but still face a due-in-full property tax bill even as the economic fallout intensifies.”
Property taxes are a critical source of money that counties in Washington state use to fund local governments and services. They make up 9.4 percent of the state’s general fund and pay for roughly a third of the cost of the public school system.
The previous delay only impacted households that pay their taxes directly rather than through an escrow account held by their mortgage lender.
The proposal came just under the wire, heard before the King County Council on May 26, just days before property taxes came due.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the May 27 - June 2, 2020 issue.