SALT LAKE CITY — Over 28,000 more Utahns filed unemployment claims last week as jobless rates continued to skyrocket nationwide amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 28,560 people in Utah filed initial claims for unemployment from March 22-28, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s up nearly 9,000 from last week, when 19,690 filed claims, the department reported.
The state has seen almost as many claims filed for unemployment benefits over the last two weeks than were filed in all of 2019, according to Kevin Burt, Unemployment Insurance Division director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
“We certainly have seen a historic volume during the last two weeks," he said Thursday.
The division paid out just under $4 million in aid last week, according to a news release.
Burt stressed that people who have applied for unemployment insurance must also file a claim each week while they are unemployed. The weekly claim lets the division know that you are still unemployed. If people don't fill that out each week, they won't get paid.
The weekly claim can be found via the same link where you applied for unemployment insurance, Burt said. For more information, go to jobs.utah.gov/covid19. The page includes the latest information on how to get help during COVID-19, as well as answers to some frequently asked questions.
The increased number of claimants has led to longer call waiting times and longer processing times for unemployment insurance applications, Burt said. Currently, the division is processing applications in 21-30 days.
People can help the division process applications more quickly by filling them out online and by making sure they have fully completed the entire application, Burt said.
Additionally, there is no need to contact the division after you have filed an application. Doing so increases processing times for other people attempting to apply. Someone from the division will contact you if they have a question about your application, Burt said.
Nationwide, about 6.6 million people had filed for unemployment insurance as of March 28, which is more than double the number that filed the week before that, according to the labor department.
In Utah, 16.6% of the people who filed last week were working in the food and service industry, according to the Unemployment Insurance Division. Another 12% were working in the office and administrative support sector, and about 9.5% were working in management.
The top counties claimants filed from were Salt Lake, with just under 42%; Utah, with 14.6%; Davis, with 9.2%; Weber, with 6.8%; and Washington, with just over 6%.
The division is waiting for more federal guidance following the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, Burt said. That will increase each claimant's unemployment benefit by $600 on top of their regular benefit, he said.
However, the federal government has not yet advised states on how to distribute the extra $600, so it won't be paid out yet, Burt said. When the division starts distributing it, the benefit will be backdated to start this past Sunday and will be tacked on to subsequent unemployment insurance payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the CARES Act does include some additional protections for people who are self-employed, as of Thursday those people were not eligible for unemployment insurance because they do not pay taxes into the fund that supports unemployment benefits, Burt said.
Self-employed people were asked not to apply for unemployment benefits as of Thursday because they are not eligible, Burt said. The division will provide the latest information about potential CARES Act aid for self-employed people via jobs.utah.gov/covid19.
“The Unemployment Insurance Division staff continue to work diligently to meet this unprecedented volume," Burt said in the news release. "Strategies continue to be implemented to respond to this need, as well as the new benefits being described in the CARES Act, but with this historic demand there will be some disruption in our normal service levels."