Jobless benefits triple over past year

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Last year was one for the unemployment record books in Washington state.

A historic $3.967 billion in unemployment benefits were paid out in 2009 -- triple the 2008 figures, according to the state Employment Security Department.

Where did Walla Walla County stand in the pack? Last year 2,274 claimants received more than $13 million in unemployment insurance benefits. Neighbors in Columbia County received about $1.2 million, while Garfield County claimants were paid just over $401,000.

Employment Security Communications Director Sheryl Hutchison said this morning the department doesn't have a county-by-county breakdown from previous years. However, the agency does have other statewide figures: 470,231 Washingtonians received unemployment in 2009, compared to 290,000 in 2008, when $1.2 billion in benefits were paid out. That compares to $725 million paid out in 2007.

During the recession, 58 percent on unemployment statewide are first-time claimants, compared to 48 percent in the two years before the recession.

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As charitable donations for relief efforts in Haiti pour in, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance has several suggestions for deciding where to give your money.

In a warning issued Wednesday, BBB officials said fraudulent charities are likely to emerge -- as they did following the South Asian tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. To help vet charities, the BBB offers these tips:

Rely on experts: Be cautious of recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites, since they may not have fully researched relief organizations. Donors can visit bbb.org/charity to verify that relief organizations are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Be wary of claims: Some organizations might claim they give 100 percent of donations to the victims, but charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation has a processing fee. Charities that claim all money will assist victims still incur expenses -- even if they use other funds to pay for them.

Give online with caution: There are loads of spam messages and e-mails claiming to be linked to relief groups, making it difficult for the charities that really are part of the relief efforts.

Is there an on-ground presence in the affected area? See if the charity's Web site clearly describes what it can do to address immediate needs. Unless staff are already in the area, getting workers to the area may be difficult.

Does the charity provide direct aid? Some may raise money to pass along to relief organizations instead. You may want to give directly to charities with a presence in the area.

In-kind donations: Be it clothing or food, the well-intentioned in-kind drives may not be the quickest way to help those in need. Ask the charity about a distribution plan.

Strictly Business is a local business column. Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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