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Historic jobless claims lead to busy phone lines, uncertainty on federal aid

By Ladd Egan and Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV | Posted - Mar. 31, 2020 at 9:01 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Tens of thousands of Utahns are in limbo, waiting on word about their unemployment checks. Calls and emails into the KSL newsroom tell of people waiting on hold for hours when calling to get information on unemployment benefits.

Mass influx of unemployment claims

Last week, the Utah Department of Workforce Services announced 19,951 new unemployment claims for the week of March 15 to March 21, 2020. That marked a 1,391 percent increase in claims from the previous week.

The Unemployment Insurance Division said many of those filing have never done so before, leading to many calls with questions.

“The queues are being filled up by individuals that don’t need to call us,” said the division’s director, Kevin Burt.

Burt said there’s no need to call once a claim has been filed, and doing so actually hinders the response and processing time of the division. If there are questions regarding the claim, the division will contact the claimant.

In general, a benefit is paid in 21 days from the date the claim is filed. However, Burt said there may be some delays in benefit processing times.

How CARES Act figures in

Unemployment benefits have been expanded to include some who wouldn’t normally be eligible thanks to the federal stimulus act.

But many who now qualify will need to wait until the rules and disbursement are figured out on the state level.

“There are some individuals — the self-employed and some individuals in religious institutions — that are not paying into the unemployment trust fund, not paying a tax,” said Burt. “As a result, they’re not currently eligible for unemployment benefits.”

Some of that will change once the federal government provides instructions to Utah on how to administer the stimulus act. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program will expand benefits to:

  • Self-employed
  • Independent contractors
  • Those working in the “gig economy” like events

Unemployed Utahns would also get an extra $600 per week beyond the state’s standard unemployment benefit.

“What we do know is that if you have applied for unemployment, you do not need to apply again,” said Burt. “Just continue to file your weekly claim and once we have that guidance, and once that $600 is available, and once we’ve been able to figure out how to administer it, then that $600 will appear just like with your unemployment claim.”

What to do when filing a claim

Burt took us through the steps Utahns need to take if now finding themselves unemployed: ·

  • Apply online and completely finish the application
  • Have your Social Security number and driver license ready
  • Prepare a list of all your employers since October 2018
  • Do not call. The office will reach out if there is a problem with your application

The unemployment office is still sticking with the general timeline of two to three weeks before an applicant will see money deposited into their checking account. It is unknown when the expanded stimulus benefits will be available.

Can I get unemployment if I receive Social Security?

The unemployment office says receiving Social Security does not count against or reduce unemployment benefits.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources
Prevention:
  • To help mitigate infectious transmission of COVID-19, health care officials advise anyone who thinks they might have the virus to first call their doctor before going to a hospital
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often
  • Stay home if you’re feeling sick
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Cough or sneeze in your elbow or a tissue
Symptoms and Resources:
  • Patients with COVID-19 typically have a fever, cough and shortness of breath, though asymptomatic transmission is possible. If you believe you may have the virus, speak with a healthcare provider.
  • Utah’s COVID-19 website is https://coronavirus.utah.gov/.
  • Intermountain Healthcare has created a COVID-19 symptom tracker for individuals worried they may have the virus.
  • Utah’s COVID-19 information hotline is 1-800-456-7707.
  • People are asked to first call the University of Utah Health coronavirus hotline at 801-587-0712 to determine if testing is absolutely necessary.
Ladd Egan
Cindy St. Clair

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