Here’s what we’ve seen since the implementation of Paid Family and Medical Leave in Washington state on January 1, 2020:
- 35,000 applications submitted;
- $15 million in benefits delivered to Washington workers;
- And a whole lot of waiting.
Applications are now taking 10 weeks to process, according to the Employment Security Department (ESD) which administers Paid Family and Medical Leave. ESD has brought on more staff and streamlinined the approval process, with the goal of getting approval times down to two weeks by June.
The backlog points to the unexpectedly high number of applications in the first six weeks of Paid Family and Medical Leave. Incomplete applications cause even more delay – about 10 percent of applications are missing identification verification and 30 percent of medical and sick family claims are missing medical certification.
Folks will eventually receive benefits back to when their leaves began, regardless of processing delays, but much of Washington’s workforce relies on a consistent paycheck for the necessities of life. But much of Washington’s workforce relies on a consistent paycheck for the necessities of life, so these delays are causing frustration and anxiety for many.
A recent survey posted on EOI’s social media garnered a range of feedback, from those singing the praises of this program to those still eagerly awaiting their benefits. One community member noted, “I was going to have to go back to work beginning of January, when my son was only 6 weeks old and I hadn’t finished healing yet. This gives me the opportunity to keep him home a little longer and let my body heal before returning to work.” Similar gratitude was expressed by those for whom the benefit has already been applied.
On the other end of the spectrum, many shared the challenges they were facing due to delayed approvals. One respondent said that because of the delay, they “have no way to pay our bills, get food, or pay our rent, and my husband is going back to work because it’s taking too long to get any money.”
ESD is being transparent about the problem and taking active steps to ensure that all eligible Washington workers get the paid leave they are entitled to, including:
- Hiring 35 new employees to work on applications;
- Borrowing employees from other programs;
- Approving overtime;
- And implementing efficiency measures, such as batching similar applications, automating email responses, and fixing phone line glitches.
We know that it’s frustrating and stressful to wait for the benefit that you were expecting. If you are waiting, help your application get processed as quickly as possible by carefully reviewing the online checklist and ensuring that you’ve submitted complete and correct application materials and medical documents. You can also login to the online system to check your application status and stay up to date on your benefit.
Although the incredible number of applicants has posed a challenge to the timely distribution of Paid Family and Medical Leave, it is a testament to the need for this program in our communities. As the days move forward and roadblocks are attended to with resilience, creativity, and compassion, we are confident that Paid Family and Medical Leave will serve Washington’s residents in particularly vulnerable, joyful, and difficult times.
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