Changes to Unemployment

Improving access to unemployment benefits

Unemployment Benefit Debit Cards!


The state of Washington is one of the few states in the nation that still offers a paper check option for unemployment insurance benefits. The U.S.Treasury Department has required people to receive most federal benefits by direct deposit or prepaid debit card since 2013.


Requiring claimants to receive unemployment benefits via debit card or direct deposit will improve access to funds for claimants while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars now spent to process and mail paper checks. ESD plans to eliminate the option to request a paper check for benefit payments effective Aug. 1, 2018. Anyone who opts to receive benefits by prepaid debit card will receive instructions in English and Spanish to help them understand how to use the card, where it is accepted and how to access information and assistance online and over the phone 24/7.


Claimants currently receiving benefits via check will be allowed to continue receiving paper checks until their claim exhausts—as long as there is no break in weekly claims filed. If they stop claiming and re-open or when they file a new claim, they will only be able to receive benefits via prepaid debit card or direct deposit.


Who does this affect?


Roughly 25 percent of claimants currently request benefits by check. That number has dropped from 44 percent in January 2017. ESD printed roughly 50,000 checks in March 2018.


A review of the demographics of claimants who request checks found:

  • 25 percent of claimants who requested checks were in the 45-54 age range. Claimants 24 and younger or 65 and older made up the smallest percentage with 4.5 and 5.4 respectively.
  • Of those who requested checks, only 14 percent preferred a language other than English.

Workers in the construction, manufacturing and agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting sectors were most likely to request checks (25, 15 and 13 percent respectively).

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