In this issue:
Race Equity | Brew Review 2022 | Policy Updates | ULP Events | Thanks from the Director
Advancing Race Equity in Spokane
By Juliana Repp, Managing Attorney, Spokane
The Spokane ULP Office was fortunate to be awarded a race equity grant from the Legal Foundation of Washington in September of 2021. As part of our grant proposal we named a Carl Maxey Race Equity Fellow to assist with planning a legal aid summit and outreach event focusing on the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities in Spokane. We selected ULP intern, LaShawn Jameison, a Black law student who was in his first year of law school at the University of Idaho College of Law, as our Carl Maxey Race Equity Fellow.
We invited Sandy Williams, Executive Director of the Carl Maxey Center, along with Camerina Zorrozua and Virla Spencer, Co-founders of the Way to Justice, to partner with us on this project. We planned a four-part BIPOC-led and focused event for August 16, 2022 to be held at the Carl Maxey Center, here in Spokane.
The first event of the day was a mini-CLE course: Advancing Race Equity In Spokane’s Legal Community. In lieu of payment, we asked participants to make a contribution to the Carl Maxey Center. The CLE was approved for 1.75 credits of Ethics credit per APR 11(f)(2) (anti-bias in the legal system/profession).
The second part of our event which we named Bridging the Gap: Forging Connections Between the BIPOC Community and Spokane Organizations, had three parts: 1) a Community Resource Fair; 2) a Community Dinner; and 3) Speaker Panel: BIPOC Voices in the Spokane Community. Participating organizations included: The Carl Maxey Center, Unemployment Law Project; The Way to Justice; Team Child; Kalispel Tribe of Indians; Latinos en Spokane; Northwest Fair Housing Alliance; The Native Project; Spectrum Center; Gonzaga School of Law; the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force; and the YWCA of Spokane.
Finally, we hosted a soul food dinner to coincide with a Speaker Panel: BIPOC Voices in the Spokane Community. LaShawn Jameison and Rayneece Hebert, Spokane ULP interns, presented for ULP. The Way to Justice; TeamChild; and Latinos en Spokane also presented at this event. Sandy Williams also presented her vision and long-term goals for the Carl Maxey Center, including plans for a coffee shop, library, and civil rights center.
The ULP is grateful that we were provided the opportunity to partner with Sandy Williams and other community organizations for these events. In memory of Sandy, we remain committed to her long time work toward race equity in our community.
Fixing the System, Post-Pandemic
By Anne Paxton, Attorney & Policy Director
Helping unemployment benefits claimants with appeals gives us many windows into what’s wrong with the system. Whether you win or lose a client’s appeal, you often walk away thinking the rules, or the way they are implemented, could be so much fairer. Making that happen is the main goal of ULP’s policy program.
Just assuring that claimants can get help with their application would fix many problems. As one claimant said: “It felt like an intimidating maze of language I didn’t understand and couldn’t navigate. I wished I could speak directly with a real live person about my particular case, so I could say: This is the situation, am I eligible? And get some real answers on eligibility versus just what my employer was telling me.”
In 2022, ULP’s policy program hit some reform milestones and we continue to push for improvements on several fronts:
- ULP attorneys are in our third year of meeting monthly with the Employment Security Department’s policy team to discuss our concerns about handling of claims and develop solutions. ESD has a new overpayment waiver plan for some 150,000 claimants who were ordered to pay back pandemic benefits they received. Rolling out this policy has been slow but we are hopeful that it will ease the unfair financial burden for many claimants.
- This year a job search reform ULP worked on for four years took effect through rulemaking. Workers classified as having “24/7” jobs no longer have to be willing to accept any shift an employer offers them in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
- We formally petitioned ESD to clarify that workers who are on a non-paid leave of absence from an employer are eligible for benefits. Rulemaking to fix obsolete wording on this eligibility is underway.
- ULP is fighting to prevent the use of automated facial recognition —mostly using digital analysis of selfies—to verify people’s identity. ESD has had a contract with the company ID.me to check claimants’ identity but has paused implementation of ID.me’s biometrics technology due to the security risks and technology issues it poses, especially to claimants with limited English.
- ESD’s eServices system is another focus for ULP because it is often out of sync with the realities of remote work and online classes. For example, taking courses should no longer mean you don’t have time for full-time work, but the application for benefits still asks if claimants are in school. “I didn’t know how to answer because it seems that that disqualifies workers from benefits,” a claimant told us. “But all of my courses are online and I study in the evenings.”
- We have been interviewing claimants in detail about their experience with applying for benefits, with the aid of a grant from the Families and Workers Fund. Former staff attorney Lavena Staten and new staff attorney Sayer Rippey have conducted several dozen interviews so far. This Claimant Experience Project is providing many heartfelt insights, like the quotes above, about what needs mending.
We all want to see unemployment benefits administered fairly and promptly to any claimant who is eligible. ULP contributors and friends have been essential to efforts to improve the system. Our sincere thanks for your support.
The Unemployment Law Project wants to interview you!
The Unemployment Law Project is offering $25 for 30- minute phone interviews about your experiences with unemployment and the unemployment insurance system. Interview responses will help ULP present policy and rule-change recommendations to the Employment Security Department, with the goal of making unemployment benefits more accessible and equitable. Anyone who lost a job in Washington State is eligible, regardless of whether they filed for unemployment benefits – if you’re interested, email email@example.com or call 503-860-3335.
A Summer Smash: Brew Review 2022
By Andy Paroff, Staff Attorney, Seattle
During the pandemic, ULP had to radically rethink our annual fundraising events. Historically, Brew Review has been our crown jewel – an evening of music, beverages, and shared community. In 2020, we moved Brew Review online (or OnVine, depending who you ask) for the first time and delivered beverages to participants’ houses.
This year, we returned to an in-person event in July at the University of Washington School of Law’s outdoor terrace. We had never held the even outdoors before, but wanted to be careful about COVID transmissibility and felt that an outdoor event was worth risking the Seattle weather. To our delight, it was a beautiful day and guests, staff, and volunteers had a blast!
On display was the vibrancy of the ULP community; delicious local food, beer, wine and cider; and amazing music provided by Greenhaus Radio. We appreciate everyone that participated in this year’s Brew Review and can’t wait to see you all again for an even better event in 2023.
Reopening the Rooftop: Building Community at the Community Building
By Wesley Groot, ULP Staff Attorney, Spokane
The Unemployment Law Project’s (ULP) Spokane Office is located in The Community Building, a brick building nestled in an eclectic and vibrant area of downtown Spokane on Main Avenue near the river. It is a unique neighborhood with a uniquely friendly feel. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Community Building and its partner the Saranac Building would be a meeting place for various businesses to put on events for the community. The Community Building management would also host events for the non-profit tenants in the building.
One of these events was a recurring barbecue on the rooftop of the Saranac Building. These events were designed to be opportunities for the organizations in our Community/Saranac buildings to mingle, interact, and build connections with others who worked in our building hub. These events were put on hold due to the COVID pandemic when that sort of carefree mingling was met with much more cautious apprehension.
After a 2 year hiatus, all of us who work in the Community Building received an email in October letting us know there would be another long-awaited rooftop community barbecue. Plans were immediately made for the office to attend the event. We arrived at the event and saw a welcomed sight — a number of our neighborhood coworkers enjoying good food, talking, laughing, and smiling. It was great meeting new faces and organizations who have not had the chance to interact much at all during the peak of the pandemic.
It was a lovely event and a great time to meet others who worked so nearby but whose day-to-day paths did not intersect. Below the surface it was more than just food being grilled on the roof of an office building. It was a welcome return to normalcy, and a representation of moving forward in the aftermath of COVID-19. A special thank you to any and all of the staff at the Community Building and The Saranac who helped put on this event. One of these organizations is a non-profit which focuses on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and they provided us with our “Say No to nukes” signs.
Thanks from the Director
By John Tirpak, Executive Director
The year 2022 has brought ULP many high and low points. We appreciate the community support for the organization. We have been able to provide direct representation for unemployment claimants in over 1000 hearings in the past year.
We want to thank all of the students and volunteer attorneys who have worked so hard to provide excellent representation for people all over the state. ULP’s ability to represent so many would not be possible without their dedication and enthusiasm.
We mourn the loss of Sandy Williams of the Carl Maxey Center. Her tragic death on Labor Day came only weeks after the Spokane BIPOC Event that ULP organized in cooperation with the Carl Maxey Center and other community organizations in Spokane. We thank them for their support and for continuing Sandy’s work.
In June ULP hosted Brew Review 2022 at the UW School of Law. About 75 people enjoyed local beer, wine, and cider. The food from Chi Mac was great and the event raised money for ULP. We thank the staff, students, and board members who made the event possible, and we’re so glad we got to see people again.
We thank Way to Justice, Horn of Africa, Carl Maxey Center, Refugee Women’s Alliance, Somali Community Services, Iraqi Community Center, Teamsters Rideshare Drivers, Fair Work Center, Asian Counseling & Referral, and the other community organizations that have worked with us in the past year.
The attorney referral panel funded by the Office of Civil Legal Aid provided representation at hearing for hundreds of claimants in the past year. Unfortunately, the panel will end after this month due to an end to the contract. We wish to thank all of the attorneys for their hard work and the Office of Civil Legal Aid for the funding.
We would like to thank the Office of Civil Legal Aid, Legal Foundation of Washington, King County, and the hundreds of individuals who have made donations to ULP in the past year for their financial support. This support allows us to continue this important work. We look forward to continued support in the coming year.
The Unemployment Law Project Team
John Tirpak, Executive Director/Attorney, Seattle
Juliana Repp, Managing Attorney, Spokane
Anne Paxton, Staff Attorney & Policy Director, Seattle
Hyun-Ji Lee, Senior Staff Attorney, Seattle
Meg Bridewell, Staff Attorney, Seattle
Andy Paroff, Staff Attorney, Seattle
Wesley Groot, Attorney, Spokane
Sayer Rippey, Attorney, Seattle
Ahmed Abdi, Outreach Coordinator, Seattle
Jason Arends, Office Manager/Paralegal, Seattle
Siem Hok, Legal Assistant, Seattle
Shi Ya Ni, Legal Assistant, Seattle
Nick Taylor, Legal Assistant, Seattle
Fahad Aljafn, Legal Assistant, Spokane
Kai Johnston, Legal Assistant, Spokane
ULP BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Joseph Shaeffer, President
Jennifer Murray, Vice President
Jeneé Jahn, Treasurer
Eric Gonzalez, Secretary
ULP VOLUNTEERS, INTERNS, & FRIENDS
Jane Zhen Zhao
Naomi Zamarripa Cruz
Saisunee (Patt) Moonsatan
Zhixuan (Candice) Hu
Join ULP for Dinner to Support Our Community Outreach Programs!
Date: Jan 28 2023
Time: 7 – 9 PM
Location: El Quetzal, Beacon Hill, Seattle
Tickets available here