Many unemployed Vashonites learned a new word this year: adjudication, which basically means that you are not going to be getting any unemployment benefits until the Employment Security Department (ESD) gets around to reviewing some issue with your claim… verifying your identity, explaining why you filed late, checking the wrong box, ending up in a rabbit hole, and other nightmares.
If ESD resolves the issue in your favor three to six months later, your benefits will start to flow again. But if the determination goes against you, you may get a bill for every dollar of benefits you have already received. After freaking out, all you can do is file an appeal.
If you are lucky, ESD will review your appeal and realize that they can resolve the issue without a judge, and your benefits are reinstated. If you’re not so lucky, you will wait another 4-5 months for an administrative hearing, with all your benefits still on hold.
Over the past eight months, I have done my best to help Vashonites write compelling explanations for why they disagree with the decision and feel they should be entitled to benefits. The majority of cases have been resolved in adjudication, but a few have made their way to the appeals docket.
Last Saturday night, I got a call from someone I’d helped file an appeal about timely filing in July 2020. She was very nervous about an upcoming appeals hearing on Monday at 7:30 a.m. and asked me to talk her through the process. I asked if she would let me participate in the hearing so I could better advise others about what to expect. She was thrilled and appointed me as her personal representative for the hearing. We were able to go to the Office of Administrative Hearings website and access the Participant Portal, where all of her case documents were posted.
On Monday morning, we both dialed in and were greeted by the judge. The judge explained the process and asked a few questions about why she had not filed her claim timely. I am certain that the judge did not expect to hear the word “yurt” used in an unemployment hearing.
We explained that she lived on a small island and worked at a fabulous restaurant before it was shut down because of COVID. We explained that she lived in a yurt on a wooded parcel with no phone line and, like many others, depended on the WiFi at the local library for internet service. She explained that when the library shut down, she had no way to file her weekly online and that, after hours of attempts, she could not even get in the queue to get to the ESD automated system for filing claims by phone. She told the judge she finally got connected to internet service when a Vashon technician figured out how to run a phone line to her yurt from an adjoining property.
The whole hearing took 20 minutes.
The judge posted her decision the next day: “Good cause may be found if a situation beyond the claimant’s control prevented the claimant from filing a timely claim for benefits, or if other factors exist that would have prevented a reasonably prudent person in similar circumstances from filing a timely claim for benefits. The claimant’s claims were late because she was unable to file them on the phone or internet due to her remote location and inability to get through to the Department. Under these circumstances, Claimant had good cause for the late claims.”
She is looking forward to receiving her $3554 of back benefits and paying her back rent and overdue bills. And I am looking forward to assisting anyone who needs help preparing for or presenting at an unemployment appeals hearing. OK, some of us have a strange idea of what’s appealing.
Deborah is a retired IRS Governmental Liaison and current workplace investigator who has provided over 1,000 free telephone consultations with Islanders regarding stimulus payments, unemployment benefits, and PPP loans through Vashon Be Prepared and the Vashon Chamber of Commerce “Ask An Expert” program. For assistance or to sign up for weekly unemployment tips, contact firstname.lastname@example.org Deborah’s portrait was done by Pam Ingalls for her “Local Heroes” exhibit at The Hardware Store Restaurant Gallery.