SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Utahns seeking unemployment benefits increased by 11,830 last week.
“A decreasing trend in new unemployment insurance claims continued this week though still at a record high compared to pre-pandemic volumes,” Kevin Burt, Unemployment Insurance Division director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said in a news release Thursday.
The division paid out about $22.6 million in unemployment benefits last week, according to the news release. Another $40 million went out to Utahns as part of a $600 amount added to weekly unemployment checks through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.
Burt pointed out that people who are offered suitable work as the Utah economy begins ramping up again risk losing their unemployment benefits if they decline such job offers. Refusing such an offer may be categorized as the person quitting, which would make them ineligible for unemployment benefits.
People who don't disclose refusals of job offers and continue receiving unemployment risk having to pay the money back for the benefits they receive and could even face a possible criminal prosecution for fraud, according to a workforce services press release.
“We are encouraged to hear from both employers and employees that they are beginning to return to work,” Jon Pierpont, executive director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said in the release. “Unemployment benefits can serve as an important and helpful tool for dialing the economy back up, but they must be used correctly.”
If an employee gets a job offer to return to a job they had previously before the pandemic began, it must be offered at a similar pay rate to be considered "suitable work," according to Burt.
If an employee gets such an offer but believes the job would not qualify as "suitable work" and they refuse the offer, they should report the job refusal to the unemployment division, Burt said. The division will freeze their benefit and then contact both the employee and the employer to determine if the job offer qualifies as suitable work.
If the offer is deemed suitable, the employee should accept the offer and go back to work or they may lose the unemployment benefit, Burt said. If the offer is not determined suitable, they may still receive the benefit.
The data released Thursday shows the continuing trend of high unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just under 137,000 people in Utah have filed for unemployment benefits since March 15 when pandemic-related social distancing ramped up, according to Utah state data.
Nationally, about 3.8 million people filed for unemployment last week, and a total of about 30.3 million have sought benefits since the pandemic began.
As part of the unemployment benefits system, people seeking benefits must file a weekly claim that shows they still qualify for the benefits. State data shows 1,251 people ended that weekly claim on April 18, signifying they no longer needed their unemployment benefit, according to the Unemployment Insurance Division release.
Since the pandemic began, just under 8,000 people have ended their weekly claims, though it's not clear if those people began receiving unemployment benefits before or during the pandemic.
Among people claiming unemployment last week, the office and administrative support industry accounted for the most of any other industry, with about 14%, according to the release. Another 10.5% came from the sales industry, and 9% were from the food service industry.
Just under 40% of unemployment claimants last week were from Salt Lake County, accounting for the most from any county, according to the report. Following were Utah County, with 14.3%; Davis County, with 8.6%; Weber County, with 7.8%; and Washington County, with 3.7%.
More information for people seeking unemployment benefits is available at jobs.utah.gov/covid19.