By Deborah Diamond
For The Beachcomber
Pandemic unemployment benefits and tax stimulus checks have brought over $50 million to Vashonites, relieving at least some of the economic struggles of the past year.
For those who were already living on the edge, these payments made some otherwise unattainable things possible: food to stay healthy, stable housing, long-delayed dentist visits, past-due vehicle maintenance, home internet service (after the library closed), mental-health therapy, tuition for online job-training, deep-cleaning of retail spaces, virtual service set-up for shuttered businesses, post-pandemic haircuts, a takeout meal to support local restaurants.
There have been many local heroes who emerged during the pandemic and Thea Byrd is one of them. Thea is the Legislative Assistant to Representative Eileen Cody, who represents Vashon along with Senator Joe Nguyen and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon. Thea took on the daunting task of escalating stalled unemployment claims to the Employment Security Department (ESD) for Rep. Cody’s office.
When someone’s claim got so tangled up that I could not use logic and prior government experience with workarounds to resolve the issues, I wrote up legislative inquiries for frustrated and sometimes desperate claimants to submit. Amazingly, Thea answered their phone contacts and emails the same day, entered the information into a massive spreadsheet, and pinged ESD. Oftentimes, an ESD assistor called the claimant within two days to resolve the issue and benefits were released within a week. Some issues took longer, but Thea kept tracking the status until they were resolved. Thank you, Thea and Rep. Cody!
As the pandemic subsides, here are some updates:
Governor Inslee and the legislature have reinstated the job-search requirement starting the week of July 4, 2021. Claimants will be required to log up to three job searches each week in order to continue receiving benefits. Both state and federal pandemic unemployment benefits are set to end completely on Sept. 4, 2021.
In the meantime, ESD has instituted new protocols for verifying identity that may send people scrambling to locate their Social Security cards. People are being asked to upload photos of their Social Security card, plus the front and back of their driver’s license. ESD will accept a copy of a receipt showing a replacement card was requested from a “mySocialSecurity” account which can be set up at ssa.gov.
Since any new employer is going to ask for a Social Security card, now would be a good time to find it or order a new one. Be ready for day one on the job with a current driver’s license, a Social Security card with the same name, and a vaccination card (if required).
Come September, the job market will be flooded. People need to get out there now and find a job. For career-development assistance, contact Vashon Chamber of Commerce’s Ask An Expert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As another “Ask An Expert” (Sun-Tzu) said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
Deborah Diamond is a retired IRS Governmental Liaison who has provided over 1,600 free telephone consultations with Islanders re: stimulus payments, unemployment benefits, and PPP loans through Vashon Be Prepared and the Vashon Chamber of Commerce “Ask An Expert” program. For assistance contact email@example.com.
Deborah’s portrait was done by Pam Ingalls for her “Local Heroes” exhibit at The Hardware Store Restaurant in July 2020.