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Missourians filed over 42,000 unemployment claims last week, about a quarter of the total claims made in Missouri in all of 2019.
Social distancing efforts and restrictions meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus have caused businesses to slow or close down, leaving thousands of Missourians out of work and seeking unemployment assistance.
Missourians filed 42,207 initial claims for unemployment insurance last week, ending March 20, nearly a quarter of the 179,831 initial claims filed in all of 2019. More than 10 times as many people filed claims last week than the 3,976 who filed the week before.
"We expect these numbers to continue to grow," Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Anna Hui said at a news conference with Gov. Mike Parson and other department heads Wednesday afternoon.
More people are out of work and seeking assistance across the country, with about 3.2 million people filing initial unemployment claims nationwide. That's the most ever recorded in a week and is nearly five times the previous high, when 695,000 filed claims one week in October 1982, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Nearly every state cited impacts from COVID-19 on their report, according to a news release from the department. Many layoffs continued in the service industry, including hospitality and food service, but the department also highlighted health care and social assistance, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and warehousing and manufacturing as industries where many people are now seeking unemployment assistance.
Missouri attributed a much smaller spike the week before to layoffs in transportation and warehousing, hospitality and food service, administrative support, waste management and remediation services.
Hui also announced two changes to unemployment insurance rules, including temporarily waiving the one-week waiting period before people who lose their jobs can file an unemployment claim. She urged anyone who loses their job to file their claim as soon as possible so they can receive benefits sooner.
The department will also temporarily stop charging coronavirus-related unemployment claims against employers, which Hui said would help them "avoid the negative impact" of those claims.
Unemployment insurance is paid by a tax on employers, each of which has its own account in the state trust fund that pays out unemployment claims. When there are many claims on an employer's account, their tax rate can be adjusted to make sure their account covers all of their employees. Under the waiver, what the state would take for each unemployment claim will stay in the employer's account, so they won't have a steep tax increase.
The department previously lifted a requirement that people collecting unemployment insurance because they lost their job due to COVID-19 do three job search activities each week, like applying or interviewing for a job.
People who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 should check the "COVID-19" box on the unemployment claim form to make sure the requirement is waived for them. The job search requirements still apply for people who lost their jobs for other reasons.
Hui said 95 percent of claims are being filed online, which is the more efficient way to file for those who can. The department previously said it has shifted employees from across the department to help manage the huge spike in claims, and Hui said they are constantly monitoring the website.
Unemployment insurance is available to those who lost their job due to no fault of their own, including those laid off due to a slowdown in business caused by COVID-19. People who cannot work because they are ill from coronavirus may not be eligible because people must be able to work to claim benefits. People who are required to quarantine but are not ill will be eligible in most cases, according to the department.
The department has said more rules could change on unemployment benefits as it gets more guidance from the federal government. It continues to update information on its website, including a Q&A on commonly asked questions about unemployment and coronavirus.
This page was edited at 9:48 a.m. March 28, 2020, with the News Tribune's version of the unemployment story replacing an earlier AP story posted at 9:20 a.m.