Living in Limbo: Colbert man falls through the cracks of state’s unemployment system

NORTH SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — Even as some states start to reopen their economies, the unemployment situation is not getting better.

If there is any relatively positive news, it’s that first-time claims have declined for seven straight weeks. They peaked at 6.9 million in the final week of March.

The labor department reported that an additional 2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment last week. A total of 38.6 million people have filed since mid-March, when lockdowns began across the country.

Washington state’s unemployment rate was a record 15.4%, and the state’s economy lost 527,000 jobs last month. It’s the highest jobless rate the state has seen since it started keeping comparable records in the 1970s.

In Washington – more than 1.9 million people have filed initial claims. The Washington State Employment Security Department has paid out nearly $3.8 billion in benefits to Washingtonians. But of the 1.9 million who filed, only 768,000 have been paid.

4 News Now spoke with a man in Colbert who said he’s one of the people who fell through the crack in the system.

Chris Davis owns The Barn on Wild Rose Prairie, a wedding venue in north Spokane County. Any other year, it would be busy with blushing brides. Then a pandemic happened.

“By April, our weddings were wither being cancelled or postponed. Now, we’re looking to wait until may, but then the June weddings are being cancelled and postponed. So now my thought is, am I even going to get paid in June. We’ve already been living on savings for six months,” Davis said.

The Barn, was initially scheduled to max out at 25 weddings this season. Because of COVID-19 and the rules around the stay-at-home order, they’re down to about 10-15 weddings. Even that number could change depending on what happens this summer.

“We make all of our money for the year in those six months. Then from October to May, we live off of savings,” Davis said.

It’s pretty cut and dry for Davis. No weddings, no income.

“Our savings was kind of like an emergency amount that we’ll never have to get into. Well, we’re into that now,” Davis said.

Davis applied for unemployment. But there have been bumps in the process.

He says he received two payments, and that was it.

“I had a friend say – oh, well you got to get up at 7 a.m. And call first thing, get on hold. I did that for four days. On the fourth day, I got through. I talked to a guy who said you need to wait. You’re in something called arbitration,” Davis said.

Davis was previously a math teacher. He stopped teaching in June 2019, and believes this is why ESD is having issues with his account.

Now, Davis is in a waiting game.

“I just, I get so stressed out. I don’t even know what I should be doing,” Davis said.

He can’t hold weddings, and he feels like he’s been forgotten through the system that’s supposed to help.

“My stress level just does this a little everyday. In theory, I’m fine. Because in theory, I’ll get back unemployment. And then in theory, we’ll be opened back up in the fall,” Davis said.

He’s optimistic, but if they can’t hold weddings soon, he has to find another job.

“That’s the tough part is if they even said, here is the hoops to jump through. But when there is nothing, and you’re going – are there hoops to jump through? Should I be filling out paperwork? Should I be calling somebody? That is what’s so tough is not knowing what the next step is.” Davis said.

Davis said he will continue calling ESD to hopefully resolve the issues he’s having with unemployment benefits. He said if all goes well, and he can receive payments, his family will be financially stable until they can start holding weddings again. If not, however, he said he is considering going back to teaching or find another job.

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