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Jobless claims in Utah remain at high level despite 3% drop in new applicants

Jobless claims in Utah remain at high level despite 3% drop in new applicants

(Scott Taylor)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Despite a 3.1% decrease in filings for traditional benefits, requests for unemployment assistance continue at historic levels in the Beehive State.

The Department of Workforce Services reported Thursday the number of total new claims for unemployment compensation in Utah was 7,249 for the week of June 28 to July 4, while a total of $80.4 million was paid out in benefits.

The number of people receiving traditional unemployment benefits for the week was 81,545, representing a 2.9% drop in weekly claims.

“The amount of unemployment claims during this pandemic has certainly been historic, as has the amount of benefits paid,” said Unemployment Insurance Division director Kevin Burt. “Moving forward, ongoing financial stability will only be found in employment, as the unemployment insurance $600 weekly stimulus is set to expire on July 25, 2020, for all unemployment programs.”

He said the number of claims processed in the time since stay home orders largely began in March has been staggering.

“It’s been 16 weeks and what we’ve received so far (is) 241,000 claims for unemployment benefits. That is four years of claims that we’ve received in the last 16 weeks or less than four months,” Burt said during a weekly news conference.

“We’ve also paid out cumulatively $985 million in unemployment benefits over that 16-week period. That is more than five years of benefits. … Over the last five years, we paid out $824 million.”

He also noted that some of the (weekly) federal stimulus payments approved by Congress weeks ago are scheduled to sunset later this month, leaving thousands of unemployed individuals with less income.

“That $600 stimulus is set to expire on July 25 for all unemployment insurance programs,” he said. “Remember that the state unemployment benefit will continue, so individuals that are unemployed past July 25 can stay on unemployment insurance but they will receive an approximately 40% replacement wage.

He advised Utahns still without a job to consider taking positions in alternate career fields as a way to help themselves financially until their preferred industry is able to rebound sufficiently.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved Utah’s application to take part in the Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer program — a federal food assistance effort for school-age children created by Congress through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The Department of Workforce Services is currently developing the application process, which should begin later this month, said Nate McDonald, assistant deputy director of the department and communication director.

The department is scheduled to issue eligible families a one-time benefit for each child in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade who qualifies for free or reduced-price school meals, he said. The benefit will include the cost of what would have been school meals from March 16 through May 29, with every eligible child receiving $308.

“As with many states throughout the country, Utah faced initial difficulty in gathering the necessary data to determine eligibility when distributing this program,” said Dale Ownby, director of the state Eligibility Services Division. “In collaboration with the Utah State Board of Education we have found solutions and are grateful to receive this approval in order to implement the program for our state.”

Program eligibility is determined using the date of March 16 — when students were initially asked to stay home, McDonald said. Families who received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits on March 16 will not need to apply for Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer assistance as those benefits will automatically be included with their monthly benefits in July, he said.

Contrarily, parents of eligible children who did not accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits on March 16 are required to apply for Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer aid, he added. Prospective participants can apply online at the end of July.

“Utahns Against Hunger will continue working with Workforce Services and the State

School Board in implementing (Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer assistance),” said Gina Cornia, director of Utahns Against Hunger. “These benefits will help many Utah families who have faced job loss and may be struggling to afford food for their families.”

Despite the closure of schools, free meals have continued to be provided to students in every Utah school district through the entirety of the pandemic to ensure children have access to food, McDonald noted.

“We’ve actually been very pleased with how our State Board of Education has worked closely with every school. Once the pandemic hit, after March 16, the schools still provided breakfast, lunch and also weekend backpacks for students who are in need of food assistance. That continues,” he said.

“This is a benefit that is on top of that and it is something that we believe will be providing additional support to these families that are in need of additional assistance. We’re pleased that we’re able to move forward with this program, and have this up and going for these families.”

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