Unemployment assistance extended in Utah as state reports 6-week trend of decreasing initial claims

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is now available in Utah as part of U.S. government’s coronavirus relief bill. This is the fifth federally funded coronavirus relief program to be implemented in the state.

The program will allow eligible individuals who have exhausted their benefits to receive up to 13 weeks of additional unemployment benefits.

The extended benefit is stopgap funding for employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals may be eligible for retroactive extended benefits back to March 29, 2020.

“This is another benefit as we see people go back to work,” Kevin Burt, unemployment insurance division director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said during a Thursday press conference. “But we are concerned because some industries will be a little bit slower to return.”

The extension is designed to help displaced workers in these industries.

Despite the slower return for some industries, Burt said Utah’s unemployment figures, initial claims and continued weekly claims for the week of May 10-16 demonstrate downward trends.

“The volume of claims was 6,275,” he said. “This is six weeks in a row that we’ve seen a decrease in initial claims for unemployment benefits, which is an excellent trend, and we hope that trend to continue as we (begin) to reopen the economy.”

For historical purposes, the current volume of claims is still “incredibly high,” Burt added.

Prior to the pandemic, the highest week of claims was during the federal government shutdown in 2013 which set the record at 5,000 claims.

The three industries that saw the highest percentage of claims from May 10-16 were office and administrative support (15%), production occupations (9%) and sales and related occupations (8%).

The five counties in Utah that had the highest number of individuals to file new unemployment insurance claims were Salt Lake (43%), Utah (14%), Davis (8%), Weber (7%) and Washington (3.75%).

Washington County recorded 237 new claims and Iron County had 60, or a 1.07% increase.

“For the week we also saw 101,389 continued (weekly) claims filed,” Burt said, adding that it represents a 5% decrease.

This is the second consecutive weekly drop in continued claims.

Workforce Services paid out $26.9 million in unemployment benefits during the week, in addition to $48.6 million in federal stimulus payments. Although the total is $75.5 million for the week of benefits, it represents an approximate decrease of 3% from the prior week.

“This is the first time we’ve seen this,” Burt said. “Everything is trending very well, and the unemployment programs have helped a lot of people affected by the pandemic, but now there is momentum and movement of returning back to work.”

Although the numbers are encouraging, Burt said the total amount of unemployment benefits paid was 834% higher than a normal week during 2019.

To put things in perspective, he said, between 2017-19 the state received 195,000 unemployment claims, and during the past two months, Utah has received 184,000 claims. The state has paid out nearly $4 million since March.

“All the numbers are trending very well, but they are still at historic highs,” he said. “It is an incredible amount of work that is coming into the department, and (people) will continue to see a disruption in our service level.”

Burt urged people in the unemployment system to be patient. If the department has questions on individual claims they will reach out to resolve issues.

“The people best equipped to process benefits are also the best to answer calls,” he said. “We are trying to respond to both, but our focus will continue to process benefits. We are going to make sure they are available to the people who need them so desperately.”

As part of the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, those who have already exhausted their 20 weeks of benefits and have stopped filing weekly claims should visit the Workforce Services unemployment insurance website and select “file new or reopen claim” to complete a claims application for the extended benefits.

For more information about the program, click here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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