Get caught up with the year that was with ULP’s 2020 Newsletter

Coming Together During Uncertain Times

Image from Vecteezy

By Behnaz Mansouri, Senior Attorney, and Erin O’Brien, Legal Assistant

Established in 1984, the Unemployment Law Project prides itself on being a fierce advocate for those struggling to secure unemployment benefits. 2020 has been a painful and trying time for all of us. Full of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, political strife, and economic hardship, each and every one of us has made sacrifices and experienced unexpected losses. We want to acknowledge and honor those sacrifices and losses, whether it’s the mental framework for the life you thought you’d be living this year, the loss of your home and livelihood, or the devastating loss of a loved one. We also want to take a moment to express our gratitude and admiration for the people who make the expansion of our work possible.

With the aid of additional grant funding and increased donations this year, the Unemployment Law Project increased staffing capacity by more than 300%. Each month ULP staff receive and respond to hundreds of calls and emails from individuals needing assistance filing their claim, responding to overpayment notices, contacting ESD or seeking representation for their appeal hearing.

To further educate people on the constant evolution of pandemic unemployment assistance, ULP has hosted over 30 weekly webinars. Our webinars have also been inclusive for communities of color, conducted in various languages, and addressed the needs of specific professional groups. While our staffing size has increased, ULP continues to rely heavily on the contributions of private attorneys. Throughout 2020, twenty-five (25) attorneys participating in the ULP Pro Bono Program vigorously represented 118 people who appealed their denial of benefits. With the establishment of the Emergency UI Claimant Representation Program, managed by ULP and funded by the Office of Civil Legal Aid, over 60 private attorneys have energetically responded to our call to action for increased representation of clients during an appeal hearing.

The Unemployment Law Project is proud of the successful advocacy work we have accomplished this year to support Washingtonians, and we would not have been able to achieve these great heights without the partnerships built within our vibrant legal community.


A Small Bright Side of the 2020 Benefit Program Breakdowns: Media Attention to Claimants’ Plights

By Anne Paxton, Staff Attorney & Policy Director

It may have started with hiring our webmaster Andy Paroff in March. Acquiring a Zoom account and holding weekly webinars from April to the present probably helped. Participating in a lawsuit against the Employment Security Department might well have been the decisive factor. Whatever the triggers, ULP has been progressively upping its game in the media and on the web over this past year. And we believe that’s been a good thing for claimants.

Unemployment insurance is normally a side-issue in the press, although during recessions it can occupy center stage. But the sudden, massive surge of unemployment that the pandemic brought this year pushed UI and its failings in Washington state under an especially unsparing spotlight. Our Employment Security Department took a beating in the media as scam artists posing as legitimate claimants made off with more than $500 million in benefit payments and claims became bogged down by understaffed phone lines, IT problems, interminable processing delays, and a paralyzed appeals process.

Even though ULP focuses on Washington State claimants, it is the country’s only state legal aid organization devoted solely to unemployment issues. So alongside the flood of calls from claimants seeking help with benefits applications, ULP staff found ourselves getting calls for comment from dozens of outlets ranging from KING5 News, Politico, and the Seattle Times to NPR’s Marketplace, CNN, and the New York Times. In many cases, ULP clients agreed to tell their stories to reporters as well.

For senior attorney Behnaz Mansouri, an early caller was CNN, covering the claims processing delays back in March when two months seemed like a long wait. As she told the network, many claimants are non-native English speakers and do not hold traditional jobs, making it especially challenging for them to navigate the system. “It’s convoluted. It’s unclear. It’s unprecedented,” she said, adding that many people who receive denial letters may not return and apply for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. In August, the web news magazine Politico aired Behnaz’s concern about the loss of the $600 per week PUC benefit. The year “has been made bearable by this patchwork of financial assistance,” she said. “And now without it, I fear, it’s going to become unbearable.”

Andra Kranzler, an attorney working with ULP, explained to KIRO Radio in a July interview how applicants may be wrongly blamed for innocent errors. “You can’t really change your answer if you make a mistake or you don’t understand the question, and there’s not really an easy way to fix it,” Andra said. The inability to reach a human at ESD for explanation compounds the problem, she pointed out, since a single error on a form can land a person in the adjudication process or force them to appeal, cutting them off from funds for months.

Spokane’s Spokesman Review featured ULP Spokane managing attorney Juliana Repp in May, recounting how her tribal heritage and disabilities of a family member had helped fuel her passion for the underdog. Because so many claimants have found ESD unreachable, the ULP office often gives advice on the regulations and on the process of pursuing a claim—but at times also serves as a sympathetic sounding board for frustrated claimants, Julie explained to the newspaper. “They’re trying to figure out why the process hasn’t gone smoother, and they’re anxious because they don’t know where their check is.”

In June, Oregon Public Broadcasting focused on how offsetting benefits can have dire outcomes for low-income people and missing a piece of mail with a hearing date or appeals deadline could mean getting stuck with an overpayment of $500, $15,000, or more. “Then interest is added and wages are garnished. Bank accounts are attached, tax refunds are intercepted, and liens are placed on property,” ULP executive director John Tirpak told OPB. “And during the pandemic, in spite of our advocacy, they are still collecting overpayments in Washington state.” Since the local economy contracted, “Hundreds of people have called asking ULP for help every week,” the station also reported, quoting John. “Many people have run through their savings. Some have moved out of state.”

Perhaps the most surprising—but welcome—development for ULP has been our raised profile on social networks, thanks to Andy and to ULP Farmworker Fellow Lavena Staten. ULP has been actively doing outreach to print, broadcast, and online media to clarify the confusing alphabet soup of benefit programs and to explain fuzzy or downright misleading parts of the online benefit application. With help from law student and ULP intern Kristen Moran, Lavena broke new ground for ULP when she posted several quick TikTok videos with these goals in both English and Spanish—with some even going viral. At last count, Lavena’s video on overpayments had won 80,000 TikTok views and was picked up by a Seattle TV news station as well.

The pandemic continues, and although the unemployment spikes seen in March and April are unlikely to recur, the nation remains under a siege of joblessness. Amid the countless policy debates that lie ahead, ULP intends to do our best to keep the need for reform of unemployment benefit programs front and center.


Spokane Benefit a Success

Spokane Unemployment Law Project through Juliana Repp, Managing Attorney and John Tirpak, Executive Director, hosted a magical benefit event on January 23, 2020, at the Community Building. It was a wonderful night of food, music and over thirty unique auction items donated by the Spokane community. Against a backdrop of music by the renowned Craig Catlett Jazz Quartet, participants enjoyed a delightful array of appetizers from Fery’s catering with wine, beer and soft drinks. Mikayla Goodwin and Andy Paroff, ULP interns, were integral in making this night a success. Our sponsors included: Breean Beggs, Paukert and Troppmann LLC; Winston & Cashatt; Machinists Union, District 751; Cooney Law Offices; United Steelworkers Local 338; and the Law Office of D.C. Cronin. Former managing attorneys, Laurie Powers and Monica Holland and numerous former interns, also joined us at the event. Thank you to all, who made this such an enjoyable evening.


Rising to the Challenge: Working at the Unemployment Law Project in Unprecedented Times

By Rachel Platin, Spokane Lead Legal Intern

Like almost everything lately, working at the Unemployment Law Project was a different experience this year than anyone could have expected. Like many other students, I had a different legal internship lined up for the summer – only for COVID to cancel it at the last minute. Thankfully, I got connected with the Managing Attorney at the Spokane office, Juliana Repp, and was able to start working at ULP.

Due to the safety concerns surrounding the pandemic, our office has been working almost fully remotely. In fact, I have been working for ULP since May and have not met my coworkers in person or even been to the ULP office yet. Not your typical internship experience. However, what I have learned and the people I have been able to help have made it an incredibly rewarding experience. I have been really inspired by the adaptation and resilience of the Spokane office during this time. We have several weekly zoom meetings and frequent phone calls and emails; I often forget that I am not in the office with everyone. It is helpful that all our hearings are held on the phone anyways, as is standard practice for the Office of Administrative Hearings. I worked on a Superior Court brief earlier this summer and I was able to have the opportunity to be present at the hearing via Zoom. Had it been normal times, I likely would not have been able to attend the hearing as it would have been on the other side of the state. I am looking forward to rotating with other interns and getting to spend some time in the office (safely)!

We are seeing an unprecedented number of unemployment claims during the past 8 months. More and more people are out of work and most of the cases we have been getting are somewhat COVID-related. Very rarely do we get cases that are just natural, cyclical unemployment issues. I find that it is often difficult to separate the emotions and the work from each other, as the claimants who are calling our office for help are becoming more and more desperate for help. I have had many claimants who are calling from their cars where they now live, have kids doing online school in the background, or are down to their last dollar to feed their family. Most phone calls we get are from people just so glad to get a real person on the phone, as it is virtually impossible to get ahold of the Employment Security Department with the number of claims the agency is dealing with. I am thankful for the existence of the Unemployment Law Project and the incredible work that this organization does to help those who need it the most. I have learned the most from hearing my claimants’ stories. I am incredibly interested in how societies function and how every person plays a part in society and hearing the personal stories from claimants in every single industry has been very eye-opening. Most of these workers are the backbone of society, including truck drivers, suppliers, hospitality workers, etc. and I have gained a great deal of appreciation for them during the pandemic that I will be sure to hold moving forward. I am thankful to be in a position to help advocate for their unemployment benefits and also work on several policy projects with ULP to try and improve the unemployment insurance system in the future.


Historic Victory for Washington Workers

Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels

By Lavena Staten, SU Farmworker Fellow

Last month, the Washington Supreme Court decided that dairy workers in Washington are entitled to overtime pay when they work over 40 hours in a week. This decision was monumental. Excluding agricultural and domestic workers from overtime pay and other worker protections stems directly from slavery, a history acknowledged in Justice Steven González’s concurring opinion. At the state level, Washington’s Minimum Wage Act explicitly excludes agricultural workers from overtime. RCW 49.46.130(2)(g). Meanwhile, a shortage of agricultural laborers in Washington means fewer workers working longer hours.

Now, the highest court in the state has determined that excluding dairy workers from overtime laws violates the privilege and immunities clause of the Washington State Constitution. The majority opinion states that “all Washington workers in dangerous industries” have a fundamental right “to receive workplace health and safety protections.” The Court reasoned such protections dampen employer desires to force employees to work excessive hours for too low of pay. While the court focuses on non-seasonal dairy workers, the underlying statutory issue and additional analysis may apply more broadly to all agricultural workers. Meanwhile, the dissent argued that no workers have a right to overtime under the Washington constitution.

And agricultural employers responded with empty threats of increased automation and a disproportionate impact on small farms. However, many of Washington’s biggest crops–including hops, cherries, pears, and berries–require delicate picking that can only be achieved through human labor. Further, small farms are in much more danger from increasing concentration and consolidation of agricultural inputs, processing, food manufacturing, and food retail companies, which use their size to control small farms and eventually lead to their downfall.

Requiring overtime protections for farmworkers is a monumental step in confronting the racism and inequality in our economy, but it is not the final hurdle for those who work in agriculture: farmworkers are constantly exposed to toxic pesticides on the job and they are ten times more likely to die at work than the average worker. Nationally, farmworker families make $17,000 per year on average. Washington and the federal government must do more to protect the workers who feed us.


Advocating for Clients During a Pandemic

By Juliana Repp, Managing Attorney, Spokane ULP

When Covid-19 hit, I wasn’t sure how I would train the incoming interns/externs for the Spokane ULP Office due to limitations on occupancy in the Community Building. We improvised and held many zoom meetings. Claimants were patient and understood that part of what we do at ULP is teach and mentor interns on how to represent claimants during all facets of their cases including representing them at their appeal hearings within the Office of Administrative Hearings. Claimants had no qualms about six interns sitting in on zoom meetings, pre-hearing conferences and hearings, to learn how to advocate for them. In the midst of a months-long pandemic, teaching and working by zoom, email and limited in-office work, a formidable legal aid team was formed.

Glory Crocco
Glory is a second-year law student at University of Mississippi School of Law. Glory began working at ULP in May 2020 and noted that working with the Spokane office team has been the best part of her experience, along with being able to help claimants across the state.

Emily Ganz
Emily Ganz is a second-year student at Gonzaga University School of Law. Emily loves working at the Unemployment Law Project, where she can closely communicate with clients and hone her skills as an advocate.

Sarah Bodisco
Sarah is an undergraduate at Gonzaga studying Economics and Political Science. In her free time, you can find her reading (her favorite authors are John Krakaur and Kurt Vonnegut), biking the Centennial Trail, or lounging by the ocean/river/any available body of water. Sarah started at ULP in June of 2020, and noted that it has been a really unique experience to only have worked and interacted with other staff virtually. She believes it has pushed us all to be extra diligent and work hard for our community in need.

Rachel Platin
Rachel is a 3L student at Gonzaga University School of Law. A native of Seattle, Rachel has fallen in love with Spokane and intends to stay on this side of the state after graduation and work in employment law. She began working at ULP in May 2020 and loves her coworkers at the Spokane office and helping as many people as possible with their unemployment issues. In her free time, she loves hiking, skiing, biking, and spending time with friends and family.

Wesley Groot
Wesley is a second-year student at Gonzaga University School of Law. Wesley started working with the Unemployment Law Project in May of 2020, and has found the work to be incredibly fulfilling, especially during a time with record unemployment. He enjoys working for a firm dedicated to lending assistance to those in need.

Jakob Salazar
Jakob is a second-year student at Gonzaga University School of Law. He joined the ULP team in May 2020 and was immediately moved by the compassion and dedication of my colleagues, as well as the often heartbreaking stories of our clients. He is continually inspired by the perseverance and equanimity of so many of our clients as they struggle through the unprecedented unemployment-related difficulties resulting from the global pandemic. He feels like ULP provides a necessary service to the community by giving a voice to unemployed workers and helping them get back on their feet, and he is proud to contribute to that service.


Thanks from the Director

By John Tirpak, Executive Director

2020 has been an unprecedented year for ULP. We have been able to increase our client services due to your support.

We would like to thank the Sheridan Law Firm for their work on the Petition for the Writ of Mandamus. Special thanks to Jack Sheridan, Justin Abassi, Andra Kranzler, and Tony Dondero. The court hasn’t ruled on the case yet, but we expect a ruling in the coming year.

Special thanks to the Office of Civil Legal Aid, the Legal Foundation of Washington, King County, and the Washington State Labor Council for increased support during the COVID-19 crisis.

Our Brew Review Onvine event was a big success. Thanks to our sponsors: MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, Barnard Iglitzen & Lavitt, Terrell Marshall Law Group, Breskin Johnson & Townsend, Chipmonkey Wine, and Revolution Repair.

If you want to support the work of ULP, please contact me at jtirpak@ulproject.org for more information.

The Unemployment Law Project Team

ULP STAFF
John Tirpak, Executive Director/Attorney
Juliana Repp, Spokane Managing Attorney
Anne Paxton, Staff Attorney & Policy Director
Hyun-Ji Lee, Staff Attorney
Behnaz Mansouri, Senior Attorney
Katelyn Morgaine, Staff Attorney
Meg Bridewell, Staff Attorney
Andra Kranzler, Staff Attorney
Lavena Staten, SU Farmworker Fellow
George Leach, UW Employment Equity & Access Fellow
Ahmed Abdi, Outreach Coordinator
Jason Arends, Office Manager/Paralegal
Erin O’Brien, Legal Assistant
Stephan Elmer, Legal Assistant
Jill Cornaggia, Spokane Paralegal

ULP BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Joseph Shaeffer, President
Jennifer Murray, Vice President
Jeneé Jahn, Treasurer
Eric Gonzalez, Secretary
Amanda Ballantyne
Lillian Kaide
Andres Munoz
Erin Pettigrew
Jennifer Yogi

ULP VOLUNTEERS
Aaron Chatterjee
Abe Ritter
Alex Ellis
Alexia Diorio
Alexis Chouinard
Alexis Mei
Alisa Smith
Alizeh Bhojani
Almira Jane De La Cruz-Butler
Alyssa Krueger
Andy Paroff
Andy Sacks
Angie Weiss
Anna Marie Shearlock
Annie Holden
Asha Abdulle
Ashley Gomez
Austin Field
Behnaz Mansouri
Ben Ushka
Brian Carmichael
Caleb Carr
Carly Zipper
Chenelle Love
Chloe Merino
Chris Hendry
Chrissy Svihus
Clive Pontusson
Cortney Feniello
David Ringold
David Totten
Dean Lawrence Petitta
Deborah Sundblad
Deepak George
Devin Hogan
Devon Nikfard
Dustin Vail
Elizabeth Clampitt
Ellie White
Emily Ganz
Eric Nusser
Erin O’Brien
Estey Chen
Gabrielle Ayala-Montgomery
Gelline Nicolas
Glory Crocco
Gregory Skidmore
Hanna Choi
Hannah Aho
Hannah Driscoll
Ian Cairns
Iris Yan
Isabel Skilton
Isabell Rocha
Jaclyn Tani
Jagdeep Sekhon
Jakob Salazar
Jaqueline Beltran
Jennifer Seely
Jessica Cable
Jessie Miglarese
Joel Nichols
John Curry
Joseph Sims
Julia Fleming
Justine Taylor Yarington
Kathryn Penrod
Katie Dimsho
Kay Fuhlman
Kelly Rutledge
Kristen Moran
Kyle Madsen
Lauren Berkowitz
Lauren Mamaghani
LeAnn McDonald
Lin Li
Madeline Crowley
Marielle Maxwell
Maya Itah
Megan Lee
Mikayala Goodwin
Mitchell West
Molly Utter
Morgan Robertson
Nasrin Chaudhry
Nate Blanchard
Nathanial Putnam
Nicole Lundholm
Nina Mesihovic
Oliver Batkoff
Olivia Bloom
Pam Crone
Rachel Horvitz
Rachel Platin
Robert Bulanda
Roberto White
Romana Bruderer-Schwab
Sara Suryan
Sarah Bodisco
Sayer Rippey
Selena Ng
Silvan Schuttner
Sophie Geguchadze
Spencer Satin
Stepen Jay Hatton
Stephan Elmer
Victoria Banks
Victoria Ha Nguyen
Wesley Groot
Yinbing Lin
Ysabel Mullarky
Zoe Wood

[VIDEO & GUIDE] Answering the question: “Are you available for work?”

A question in the applications process has created confusion and kept some people from receiving unemployment insurance (UI) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits. It has to do with a basic requirement of PUA and UI in general: You must be available to work. This document is not intended to give legal advice. Instead, it is meant to provide some guidance while applying for benefits. Please view the complete guide below or watch this video for more information!

[VIDEO & GUIDE] How to file for PUA in Washington

Some questions in the application process have created confusion and kept some people from applying for (and receiving) Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits. Because of this issue, they are not being considered for benefits that they otherwise could be getting. So, we created this handy video and PDF guide to learn more about the process. This video and document are not intended as legal advice. It is meant to provide some guidance in applying for PUA. If you have any questions, please contact the Unemployment Law Project.

About the Washington State Employment Security Department Lawsuit

On June 5, 2020, the Sheridan Law Firm in Seattle, WA filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court of the State of Washington. The writ asks the Court to compel the Employment Security Department (ESD) to process unemployment benefit claims and make claim payments to Washington’s unemployed in a timely manner as required by law. The ESD did not have the legal authority to forestall and stop payments to thousands of legitimate and qualified claimants as it fell victim to an imposter fraud investigation. ESD, while seeking to verify claimant identities, did so through inept and unsecured channels which has caused further delay in benefit payments and harm to the claimants. This is not a class action lawsuit. If the court rules in favor of the petitioners, it will impact all claimants who are waiting for their claim to be processed. The Unemployment Law Project (ULP) is a party to the filing because we are a non-profit legal services office that serves to protect workers’ rights and represents workers who are denied unemployment benefits or whose benefits were initially approved but later challenged by the employer. ULP is not representing claimants in this matter but is supporting the petition by taking declarations from claimants who are waiting for payments to be made. For more information, please call us at (206) 441-9178 or toll free at 1 (888) 441-9178. Please note we are experiencing high call volumes at this time.

You can read Sheridan’s arguments and the declarations in the case and news stories about the writ at Sheridan’s website.

Learn more: https://www.opb.org/news/article/washington-state-unemployment-benefits-delays-coronavirus-lawsuit/

Black Lives Matter

The Unemployment Law Project unequivocally supports the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. The senseless murders and brutalization of the Black community through police violence is a direct consequence of systemic racism and white supremacy that cannot continue. We mourn the loss of George Floyd, Charleena Lyles, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, Shaun Fuhr, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, and so many more. We are deeply angered and want justice for all the hurts inflicted upon Black communities. We are committed to supporting the Black community and all other marginalized communities by making our work inclusive and providing equitable access to all identities. We want to ensure that everyone within this state knows their rights and has access to the resources they are entitled to without prejudice or injustice. We will continue to fight for this through the work that we do.

In the meantime, we will be taking actionable steps to support sustainable change in our community and disseminate resources that will hopefully help to protect the health and safety of everyone who is bravely advocating and fighting for justice. We will be hosting a webinar with the National Lawyers Guild to help inform protestors of their rights on June 17th at 5:00 PM, recorded here. In April, we co-hosted a webinar with the Seattle King County NAACP, recorded here, regarding unemployment denials and the Black community. We will continue this work and grow our resources and support for all people of color in the state.

In solidarity,

The Unemployment Law Project

Unemployment Law Project

Join us for a live webinar at noon on Monday, January 18, as we answer your questions about COVID-19 and unemployment benefits. You can also view recordings of our past webinars here.

Employment affected by COVID-19? Learn more.

Our Services

We help individuals challenge the denial of unemployment benefits in two ways, through direct representation and our telephone helpline.

How We Can Help »

Representation

An Unemployment Law Project representative will help provide focus and direction during the hearing and ensure that your voice is heard.

Get Representation »

Telephone Helpline

Questions about your situation? Please use our telephone helpline. Our staff give free advice on an appointment basis about unemployment benefits.

Give Us A Call »

Filing weekly claims but not yet receiving benefits? Spending hours on hold with ESD? Contact your legislators to tell them about your experiences. Help our politicians make changes to our unemployment system. TAKE ACTION – CLICK HERE!

About Unemployment Law Project

The Unemployment Law Project provides low-cost representation and free advice and counsel to people in Washington State who have been denied unemployment benefits or whose award of benefits is being challenged.

With offices in Seattle and Spokane, Washington, we offer our services to anyone with a Washington State claim. Learn More »

Donations

Donations make up about one-third of our annual budget. We absolutely rely on the generosity of individuals like you who support our work. Please consider making a donation today.

Support Our Work »

Volunteer

We rely on the assistance of volunteers for an array of tasks, from clerical tasks to representation of claimants at administrative hearings. We provide training and on-going supervision. 

Get Involved »

Employment Security Redesign Project seeks reforms

By Anne Paxton, Director, Employment Security Redesign Project

Since its founding, ULP has advocated not only for individual clients, but for protecting and strengthening the employment security rights of the more than four million current and future workers now living in Washington State. Rocky economic conditions, recessions, budget battles, and anti-worker politics can undercut or chip away at those rights. In addition, just ahead lie nationwide structural changes in employment—driven by globalization, robotics, and the gig economy—that will pose even greater challenges to employment security.

In 2017, ULP launched an exciting new project to develop legislative and policy proposals that will help reform employment security. The Washington Employment Security Redesign project, funded by the Legal Foundation of Washington, has two primary components: outreach to Washington workers about availability of unemployment benefits, and development and promotion of a specific package of reforms to the current system that can be implemented through legislation or regulatory changes.

ULP’s experience shows that just a fraction of laid-off or otherwise jobless people who qualify for benefits pursue their rights. Only 27% of unemployed workers in Washington receive benefits even though at least half of the unemployed are probably eligible.  Many are unaware of unemployment insurance. Others, sadly, burn through their savings before applying because they confuse UI with public assistance. Most are intimidated by employers’ ability to run them through hoops related to interpretations of misconduct, voluntary severance, part-time employment, and more.

muscadine-1004186_1920Seasonally employed farmworkers have particularly low access to information about the UI protections and benefits available, even though roughly half of them would be eligible for unemployment benefits when they lose their jobs.  In previous and ongoing campaigns, ULP has focused outreach efforts on immigrants and veterans; with the Employment Security Redesign Project we have built on that experience to reach out to farmworkers. For 2017, the project’s outreach component is gearing up an awareness campaign by linking with legal services offices, community centers, social work agencies, unions, and churches in Yakima, Skagit County, Spokane, and Wenatchee.

For the second component of the project, we are developing legislation, and strategic planning for its introduction and passage, with the help of Pam Crone, a consultant and former ULP Executive Director. ULP’s experience confirms that there are several measures that would provide relief in the short term to communities affected by layoffs and employer policies.

What are some of the problems that this project will address? The main ones relate to poor access, limits on benefits, and outdated eligibility standards. For example, maneuvering through benefit applications is complicated, but the Employment Security Department is so understaffed that people tell ULP it is hopeless getting help over the phone. People with disabilities need more than just online FAQs to understand benefits. Benefit levels are too low and have lagged behind inflation; the number of weeks of paid benefits allowed is inadequate and needs re-evaluation as well.

Employees, particularly women, who must quit jobs because of child care issues or caring for a family member, are sharply limited in unemployment protections. Workers are often barred from establishing good cause for quitting even when they face unacceptable hazards in their jobs. Also needed: expanded training benefits and more flexible policies on overpayments.

ULP will be seeking continuing funding for this project from a variety of potential sources, and we expect that the first year of our outreach and reform program will serve as a demonstration of its value as a long-term contribution to constructive policy development to support increased economic security, both for those who are on the job market and those who, for whatever reason, are unemployed.

With one of the most bustling economies in the U.S. and a substantial high-technology industrial base, Washington has already made its mark nationally as a leader in the move to raise the minimum wage.  ULP believes that Washington can be in the vanguard of seeing that employee interests are protected amid new economic challenges and structural change. Through the Employment Security Redesign Project, in addition to essential education and outreach, we are striving to make Washington employment policy a model for the nation to follow.

ULP Serves Vets and Military Families

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By Dan Hayward, Attorney, Ira Hayes Veterans Fellow, Spokane

I joined the practice of law to provide services for the powerless. I never want to go back to the grind of the cubicle life where my talents and passions were washed away with each passing day. This position at the Unemployment Law Project has rekindled the fire in my soul. I would be fortunate to be allowed to continue this fellowship or find a similar position elsewhere. It has been an honor and privilege to serve alongside attorneys who live for an opportunity to serve their community.

I am slowly learning the tactics and strategies of our practice. With each passing day, I grow more competent to serve the needs of our community. It is hard not to be impatient to learn the game. Losses can be so devastating when you know that your client will have no ability to pay their bills or feed their families. The need for services is great and our resources are limited. It takes diligence and patience to represent each claimant when we know that thousands will go unrepresented.

Alongside my efforts for our clients, I have spent several days outreaching to the veterans community. I have made many valuable contacts and started a cascading flow information that continues to expand. With a strong network of organizations and individuals, our services will be well known in the veterans communities. It’s not clear when we will see the results of our work, but I know we are making the contacts we need to and our services are being offered to unreached groups.

I attended the Spokane Veterans Task Force this last week. Many of my contacts suggested that this is the biggest event in town for veterans. There were at least 25 different organizations offering their services to veterans.  I handed out all my business cards I had and many organizations were eager to speak with me. The need for legal service in the veterans community is substantial. Not only were the veteran’s eager to hear about the Unemployment Law Project, many of the organizations were delighted to get my contact information. The organizations said that it’s hard to find free legal services for veterans. A few people congratulated me because of the type of work we do.

Over the last month, I had the privilege to work on an amicus memo for a veteran. Veterans issues can be complex and unique. I learned that there are some larger legal concerns for veterans and the unemployment system. Employees calculate their unemployment benefits based on the previous year’s wages.However, Washington State does not count weekends and summer training. Therefore, some military individuals don’t get credit for their service when they become unemployed.

I am currently continuing to better learn my job and continue to expand the search for rural veteran’s communities. Admittedly, I have run into a lot of dead ends. Small counties have very few resources and often refer to other counties. In these coming months, I will be spending more time reaching out to the rural counties and exchanging resource contacts.

The Ira Hayes Veterans Fellowship is named in honor of  the Native American World War II hero of Iwo Jima who returned to a life of poverty and neglect. The fellowship is funded by the Inland Northwest Community Foundation and donors to ULP.