Employers saved roughly $2.5 billion in state unemployment insurance (UI) premium payments over the last three years because of legislation passed in 2021 and 2022 in Olympia, according to a new report from the Washington State Security Department.
The report, part of a presentation heard during a work session in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee on Thursday, Feb. 16 also shows that the state’s UI trust fund has recovered from a pandemic low of $1.8 billion to $3.2 billion, without the need for the federal loans that 22 other states had to draw on, according to a Feb. 16 state Senate Democrats news release.
The trust fund’s current balance would be enough to pay seven months’ benefits, reaching a key threshold illustrating the fund’s health.
During the pandemic, 1.2 million unemployed workers, one out of every three workers in Washington, received $21.7 billion in UI benefits. The amount paid out in benefits over 18 months was roughly the same as in the previous 18 years combined.
A key function of unemployment insurance benefits is to provide economic stability during major crisis events. The UI program was created during the Great Depression of the 1930s to inject an economic stimulus for the entire country.
Washington pays higher minimum ($317) and average ($616.50) weekly benefits to unemployed workers than any other state, according to the news release.
As one of the first states to be affected by the pandemic, it was also the first to be targeted by fraudsters. The Security Department has recovered $406.5 million of the $647 million stolen during the pandemic. Washington is leading the nation in fraud recovery and will continue to work in partnership with Attorney General Bob Ferguson to continue the recovery effort.
“These numbers tell a story: Washington has one of the strongest unemployment insurance programs in the country,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, chair of the Labor & Commerce Committee and sponsor of the bills in 2021 and 2022 that cut UI premiums for employers during the pandemic. “During the toughest economic downturn in recent memory, we kept a record number of Washington families afloat, cut premiums for employers, and still kept our unemployment insurance trust fund on track to recover quickly.”
Keiser represents the 33rd District, which includes part of Kent.