Unemployment Law Project Newsletter 2023

In this issue: Legislative Wins | Brew Review 2023 | Looking Ahead to 2024 | Thanks from the Director

ULP Chalks Up Legislative and Rulemaking Wins

The bill-signing by Governor Jay Inslee on May 4: Second from left is House bill sponsor Rep. Mary Fosse, standing next to Senate Labor Committee chair Karen Keiser, with Governor Jay Inslee at center. The three on the right side are ULP board member Eric Gonzalez, Sybill Hippolyte, government affairs director for the Washington State Labor Council, and ULP policy director Anne Paxton.

By Anne Paxton, ULP Attorney & Policy Director

Six years ago, the Unemployment Law Project lost two cases at hearing and appealed them to the Washington State Court of Appeals over a single issue the cases shared: caregiving inaccessibility. 

The first involved hotel cleaner Ayan Ali, a single mother of three children. Like many other workers in 24/7-type jobs, she was denied benefits for declining to work a night shift.

In the second case, Kelly Sennott was denied benefits for quitting a restaurant server job when she found out, only after a few days’ work, that they would be requiring a permanent 5 a.m. start time, impossible with her children’s school schedule.

The judges made it clear, in ruling against Ms. Ali and Ms. Sennott, that Washington’s narrow law didn’t recognize any domestic responsibilities as good cause to quit.

So we redoubled our efforts to get the law changed. In 2022, a rule ULP had proposed kicked in, requiring that workers only be available 40 hours a week, not 24/7. And in the 2023 legislative session, we won an even more important victory through passage of ESHB 1106.

Starting in July 2024, family caregivers will not be denied benefits for a caregiving inaccessibility, whether it involves care of children, elderly parents, or other family members.

Dynamic legislative leaders—Bill sponsors Rep. Mary Fosse and Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, plus House Labor Committee chair Rep. Liz Berry and Senate Labor Committee chair Sen. Karen Keiser—steered this major legislation to passage. For advocacy and advice, we also owe special thanks to grassroots organizations Moms Rising and the United Labor Lobby; Pamela Crone, former ULP director and lobbyist for the bill for several years; and consultant Orlando Cano.
ULP also helped with a few other improvements for claimants over the last year:

  • An unnecessary and onerous set of questions at appeal hearings was halted. We suggested a policy change to fix a problem in our first-level appeals: the mandatory grilling of claimants about their job search and availability in every hearing, whether availability was an issue or not. Now, the 26,000 to 30,000 hearings a year on unemployment benefits will no longer have to waste 5 to 15 minutes on these questions when they are irrelevant to the claimant’s case.
  • ESD adopted an unprecedented set of new standards to open up waivers of pandemic-era overpayments. ULP helped draft a list of factors that should be taken into account in considering waiver of an overpayment and many of these were radical (e.g., limited English, inability to reach a phone agent to have questions answered, a claimant’s detrimental reliance upon benefits). ESD’s policy team later adopted a new policy for waiver redefining “equity and good conscience” to incorporate almost all of what we recommended.

Some exciting other new rules could also become law. We are advocating a permanent end to the ban on waiver of overpayment where there has been a finding of misconduct, and abolishment of conditional payments altogether.

In December, stay tuned for “Voices of Washington Claimants,” the final report on our “Claimant Experience Project” research funded by the Families and Workers Fund. It’s based on 100 extended claimant interviews on the features, foibles, and faults of the UI system they relied on for benefits.

To cap off a great 2023, ULP was honored to be selected as a finalist for awards to the best non-profit social services delivery organizations in Washington, under BECU’s “People Helping People” program. ULP, recognized in the “Meeting Human Needs” category, was one of 18 finalists from 900 non-profits nominated. This status gives us a $15,000 award and ULP remains in the running for top prizes that would add $25,000 to that award at an ceremony to be held December 7. We are extremely grateful to BECU’s program for this exceptional recognition and support.

Opening the Door to 2024

ULP Spokane staff and interns 2023

By Juliana Repp, Managing Attorney, Spokane

This time of year the spirit of giving spreads kindness across our community as many focus on helping their neighbors in need, and ULP is grateful to be part of such a giving and supportive community. Unemployment benefits are often a lifeline for our clients while they seek full-time employment, but these clients come to us with other needs as well. We believe building relationships within the community is a crucial part to providing a more holistic approach to legal representation and services. ULP is driven by the desire to support our local communities and individuals as they work towards success. Grounded in the labor and social justice movements, our work brings together skilled attorneys, legal professionals, law students, volunteers, and community partners to best defend the rights of unemployed workers in Washington.  

In August 2023, ULP, along with a number of other Spokane area organizations, co-sponsored a back-to-school event. Organized by The Way to Justice, the school supply drive provided a new pair of shoes, backpack, and school supplies for hundreds of school-age children gearing up to return to school in the fall. Three of our ULP Spokane staff provided a helping hand by volunteering for the event alongside a plethora of other legal aid and non-profit organizations that came together for a day of fun and sharing. Family fun and community building were an important part of the event, and a number of fun-filled contests and competitions, face painting, and inflatable toys for youth to enjoy were also included. Seeing a wide swath of organizations and members in our community join together for such a great cause was an uplifting experience for everyone!  

Along with supporting events in the community, our busy legal interns work hard to find additional ways to strengthen our community. Jesslin Ochoa, a legal intern from our Spokane office, has taken the opportunity to volunteer with Spokane’s Street Law organization. Street Law is focused on teaching and mentoring high school students about their legal rights; by sending law students to different high schools in Spokane, Street Law uses knowledge and awareness to empower youth. A few of their recent presentations provided students with information about their rights around search and seizure, and their right to free speech. These presentations aim to engage students by giving them a platform and the opportunity to ask questions. Not only does the organization educate youth on their legal rights, they also introduce high school students to the idea of law school and a career in law. 

This year has been full of growth and opportunity, and reflecting back on 2023, I am proud of the work our interns and staff do at ULP. We believe in outreach, inclusivity, and legal education, especially for those communities who have been historically underserved such as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. Partnering and collaborating with other organizations allows us to help more people in need while strengthening the communities we serve. As we prepare to open the door to 2024, we reflect on 2023’s positive achievements and are excited for future opportunities to continue to conquer systemic inequities in our community.

Preventing Homelessness with Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment benefits are an important safety net for many people, but a key demographic served by the program are people who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness. The benefits, in effect, serve as a measure that can prevent homelessness or mitigate the effects of homelessness when someone loses their job. Unemployment benefits are a financial lifeline that can help provide stability, which in turn also helps people stay connected with other resources, continue their education, and find new work.

In addition to providing stability, these benefits can also help with mental health during tough times after losing a job. When someone suddenly doesn’t have work, it can cause a lot of stress and money issues, which can worsen mental health. However, getting financial support through these benefits helps ease these stressors, reducing the chances of relying on urgent care, emergency shelters, or risky living situations.

Finally, the conditions imposed by the unemployment benefit eligibility requirements encourage people to learn new skills, receive more education, or apply for more available work. By investing in these opportunities, people become more employable, spend less time without work, and can further add to their toolset to avoid becoming homeless in the future. Ultimately, unemployment benefits play a big role in stopping or slowing job loss from leading to homelessness, helping people through tough times, and reinforcing hireability.

ULP Wins Legal Foundation of Washington Accelerator Grant

By Juliana Repp, Managing Attorney, Spokane

ULP is thrilled to announce that we are among the nine recipients of the Legal Foundation of Washington’s (LFW) Accelerator Grant! The Accelerator Grants are one-time grants designed to accelerate time-sensitive civil justice work and launch impactful projects for groups that are historically underserved by legal aid. As a recipient of this $60,000 grant, ULP Spokane will select two law student fellows to assist our office in increasing awareness of legal services and support available to Native communities in Eastern Washington. Partnering with Spokane’s largest Native health clinic and local tribes, ULP will offer advice, direction, and representation to Native persons in need, and who are seeking to secure their unemployment benefits. Please stay tuned for announcements regarding fellowship opportunities. 

Brew Review 2023 a Success!

By Andy Paroff, ULP Staff Attorney, Seattle

This year, we held our annual fundraiser Brew Review at a brand new location – Rough & Tumble Pub in Ballard. Rough & Tumble is Seattle’s only sports bar dedicated to women’s sports and has won plenty of acclaim for its food, beverages, and ambiance. We were very excited to partner with the venue to put on this wonderful event!

As usual, Brew Review was a wonderful gathering of the Unemployment Law Project’s ever-growing community of friends, partners, and supporters. We had a lively silent auction with a diverse array of prizes – from vacation getaways to a signed football from the University of Washington Huskies Head Coach Kalen DeBoer. The food and beverage options, curated and provided by Rough & Tumble, were a top notch sampling of the best Seattle has to offer. And best of all, our program this year featured some amazing guest speakers, including Washington State Representative Liz Berry!

We love Brew Review because it is a chance to spend time with our amazing community. If you have not had a chance to attend in the past, we hope you will consider joining us for Brew Review 2024. As the saying goes, “The more, the merrier!”

ULP Wins $15,000 As Finalist In BECU’s “People Helping People” Awards

ULP was honored this year to be selected as a finalist for the best non-profit social services delivery organizations in Washington, under BECU’s “People Helping People” program. ULP, recognized in the “Meeting Human Needs” category, was one of 18 finalists from 900 non-profits nominated. This status gives us a $15,000 award and ULP remains in the running for the top prizes that would add $25,000 to that award at an awards event to be held in December. We are extremely grateful to BECU’s program for this exceptional recognition and support.

Thanks from the Director

By John Tirpak, Executive Director

In the past year ULP has advised and represented over 1,000 people from all over the state. We provided language access to a diverse range of 38 languages, including Dari, Amharic, Ukrainian, Spanish, Fulani, and more. Our staff, student interns, and volunteer attorneys could not do this important work without the financial support that makes it possible.

Thanks to the Legal Foundation of Washington, the Office of Civil Legal Aid, King County, and the Washington State Labor Council for ongoing support.

Thanks to Jen Barnes of Rough & Tumble Pub, the Seattle Mariners, and El Quetzal Restaurant for hosting successful fundraising events.

We thank Brew Review sponsors MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, Terrell Marshall Law Group, Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt, Frank Freed Subit & Thomas, Deno Millikan Law Firm, Washington Employment Benefits Advocates, and  Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Thanks to Rep. Liz Berry for speaking at the event.

Special thanks to former ULP director Martha Lindley for her assistance in getting the BECU “People Helping People” grant award.

ULP will continue to fight for the rights of working people in the coming year. We invite you to join us and look forward to your much needed financial support.

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
Ahmed Abdi, Outreach Coordinator, Seattle
Jason Arends, Office Manager/Paralegal, Seattle
Siem Hok, Legal Assistant, Seattle
Jasleen Maldonado, Legal Assistant, Seattle
Nikita Countryman, Legal Assistant, Spokane
Caya Berndt, Legal Assistant, Spokane

Joseph Shaeffer, President
Jennifer Murray, Vice President
Jeneé Jahn, Treasurer
Eric Gonzalez, Secretary
Lillian Kaide
Andres Munoz
Erin Pettigrew
Jennifer Yogi

Wendy Bui
Meghan Casey
Katherine Chen
Owen Greene
Lexi Hanson
Alexandra E Harris
Rayneece Hebert
Griffin Hehmeyer
Michelle Hesse
Anna Marie Horak
Alex Johnston
Andrew Kuna
Christa Langdon
Shaw Lowry
Anna Mattson
Brooke McDaniel
Marni Meritt
Elliot Min
Saisunee Moonsatan
Janet Moran
Quinn Nessen
Jordan O’Connor
Jesslin Ochoa
Gracie Pakosz
Bruno Ponce
Archana Prabhakar
Ariana Quijada
Dakota Rakestraw
Rhiannon Rasaretnam
Sarah Santry
KD Singh
Chris Sohn
Trey Trusty
Naomi Zamarripa Cruz

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