Indiana workforce office hiring more workers to deal with flood of jobless claims

The state has started hiring 77 workers to help deal with the flood of unemployment insurance claims that have arrived in the past two weeks during the growing public health crisis.

Indiana has seen unemployment insurance claims skyrocket the past two weeks, according to the Department of Workforce Development, prompting the need for more employees to administer a program that’s being inundated with applications and phone calls.

Indiana Department of Workforce Development Commissioner Fred Payne said on Thursday that a revised 146,243 initial unemployment claims were filed last week as employers shut down during  the coronavirus pandemic. That’s up from just 2,312 claims two weeks prior to that.

Nationally, more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, double a record high set just one week earlier.

Prior to this March in Indiana, the highest number of claims filed in a one-week period was for the week ending Jan. 10, 2009, when about 28,000 claims were submitted.

Payne said the highest number of claims the department had previously ever received in one month was 157,000—only about 10,700 more than what the state just saw in one week.

“The number of claims we’ve received in a one-month period at the highest point of our downturn is what we may be seeing now on a weekly basis,” Payne said.

Analysis by WalletHub found Indiana had the third-highest increase in claims among states on a year-over-year basis, trailing only Louisiana and North Carolina.

The department has also been flooded with phone calls from individuals wondering how to apply for benefits, the time frame for receiving benefits and with questions about denials.

Payne said they had 210,000 phone interactions this week, up from 158,000 phone calls last week.

“The weeks prior to that paled in comparison,” Payne said.

Payne said the first wave of new hires will start work next week. The department currently has 828 employees.

Payne said the department is still waiting on guidance from the federal government on how to handle the new regulations outlined in the recent $2 trillion economic relief package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The legislation expanded unemployment insurance coverage to include independent contractors, freelancers and gig economy workers, like Uber or Lyft drivers, and increased the benefits by $600 per week.

The federal government also added 13 weeks of benefits, on top of Indiana’s 26 weeks, for a total of 39 weeks.

Payne said the extra $600 payment might not occur until May, and anyone whose job fell under the expanded coverage will initially be denied right now because the state system hasn’t been updated to reflect the change.

But Payne said as soon as the state receives guidelines from the federal government on how to administer the new regulations, that will be fixed. And those individuals who were denied will not have to apply again, because the system is putting those claims in a holding position.

“Once the federal guidelines are in place, we will move quickly,” Payne said.

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