Unemployment filings increase dramatically with COVID-19

Posted 3/27/20

As the country grapples with controlling COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, a growing number of workers are finding themselves out of work as businesses close and travel restrictions increase.

Silk …

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Unemployment filings increase dramatically with COVID-19

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As the country grapples with controlling COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, a growing number of workers are finding themselves out of work as businesses close and travel restrictions increase.

Silk Hope resident Zoila Rauda is one of them. Last week, Rauda was informed that both of her employers were laying her off. One of her jobs, a greenhouse that grows microgreens, had a dramatic reduction in orders. The greenhouse typically sells to restaurants and its “biggest clients stopped ordering,” Rauda said.

The next day, the City Tap, a restaurant and bar in Pittsboro, told her they needed to let her go for similar reasons.

Rauda said that both of her employers had all of the paperwork for its employees to file unemployment claims at the ready and were hopeful that they would be able to bring their staff back on “when the time comes.” She said both of her former bosses were “preparing us for what’s happening.”

“Many of my friends are having to go through this as business owners and I’m sure it’s heartbreaking for each one of you,” Rauda wrote in a Facebook post about the layoffs. “For yourselves and your employees.”

David Choi, an economist for the American multinational investment bank and financial services company Goldman Sachs, wrote in a research brief published March 20 suggests that “U.S. employment claims could surge by 700 percent and hit 2.25 million” for the week of March 15-21. Jobless claims may end up at their “highest level on record,” even surpassing those during the 2008 financial crash.

Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that COVID-19 would be added as an accepted reason for seeking unemployment benefits, whether for total work loss or reductions in hours. Within the first 17 hours of the option being available, the state received 4,721 unemployment claims related to the virus, according to Larry Parker, a public relations officer for the Division of Employment Security. Those numbers have continued to increase, rising to more than 140,000 by the end of Monday.

“This is an unprecedented situation and we are experiencing extremely high call volume and website traffic,” Parker said. “That has put a strain on our system. To give you an idea of volume, last week the average traffic on our online claims system was 6,000 people a day. On Tuesday, we had 39,395 people accessing our claims system. On Wednesday, that number increased to 68,572 people accessing our claims system.”

The actual numbers of unemployed workers in Chatham County so far is unclear. Chatham Economic Development Corporation President Alyssa Byrd said she has reached out to local businesses to help “track layoffs” asking for companies that have “laid off any employees due to COVID-19,” to let the Chatham EDC know how many.

Unfortunately, Rauda initially filed for unemployment when the first job separation occurred and before COVID-19 was an option. After receiving the second notice and the option was available, she struggled to find ways to edit her application. She said she spoke with local employment folks to seek assistance in updating her application and was told to reach out to the state. She then spent four hours on two unsuccessful calls to the N.C. Division of Employment Security Commission. The next day she tried again, only to find the system so overwhelmed that it wasn’t taking calls.

Parker said that the state was working to improve capability by increasing server capacity to handle more traffic, has added a “frequently asked questions” listing on its website to reduce phone traffic and is taking steps to increase staffing and extend work hours including posting 50 available jobs on Thursday to help process claims with an expectation that more positions will be posted.

Though she is still navigating her way through the system, Rauda said she is remaining positive.

“If I do get unemployment insurance, that’s going toward my health insurance and my bills,” she said. “Everything else? I have started my garden and it’s coming along and I’m hoping to rely on that. And I have some dry goods.”

She hopes that, if things get too dire, she can ask her parents for support and has already heard from many members of the community offering assistance.

“If it wasn’t for the community and my family I don’t know what I would do,” Rauda said.

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

Unemployment filing basics

Where can I file for unemployment?

The fastest way to file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits is online at des.nc.gov. The majority of people are able to successfully file a claim online.

For assistance with filing a claim, you can call the DES Customer Call Center at 888-737-0259. However, due to a large number of calls related to COVID-19, the center is currently experiencing long wait times.

How long will it take to get my unemployment benefits?

After you file your claim, your employer has 10 days to respond before payment can be released to you. However, waiving the wait week, as was directed in the Governor’s order, will speed up how fast you’ll be paid for your first week of benefits.

Additional FAQs can be found www.des.nc.gov.


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