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Unemployment claims overwhelming state office

As businesses either close or reduce their workforce out of concern for the Covid-19 virus, more people are filing for unemployment benefits to help them survive while they’re off work.

And the number of people contacting the Mississippi Department of Employment Security for help is increasing daily, the department’s executive director said.

“It’s increased 500 percent (in the past few weeks) and it’s going to be increasing more and more,” said Jackie Turner, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. “It’s happening more and more all over the country; something like this (large numbers of claims) occurring at the same time all over the country hasn’t happened in decades.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, the number of unemployment claims in Mississippi rose from Feb. 29 and March 7, when 879 claims were filed, to 1,147 filings for the week ending March 14, and 5,519 for the week ending March 21.

Current individual numbers for Warren County were unavailable.

Nationally, according to an April 2 Department of Labor press release, the advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted, totaled 5.82 million for the week ending March 28 — an increase of 2.90 million, or 99.4 percent, from the previous week. There were 183,775 initial claims in the comparable week in 2019.

According to a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the country’s total non-farm payroll employment fell by 701,000 in March.

Employment in the leisure and hospitality industry fell by 459,000, mainly in food services and bars and lounges.

“The changes in these measures reflect the effects of the coronavirus (Covid-19) and efforts to contain it,” according to the report.

The increasing number of people seeking unemployment benefits, Turner said, has overloaded the department and her staff.

Before Covid-19 began affecting the state, Turner said MDES was working with a smaller staff.

“The economy was good; there weren’t a lot of claims for unemployment benefits,” she said, adding since the virus’ outbreak she has been hiring more people and working with her staff to find alternative ways for people to file for benefits. “There are two ways to apply for benefit; online or by telephone, and we have to use safeguards to protect personal information.”

She recognizes the problems people are having trying to apply online, “but it’s hard to do that when everybody is applying at the same time.

“We’re working to find other avenues to help people apply. We’re even publishing cell phone numbers so people can call.”

One avenue people may try, she said, is going through the local WIN Job centers.

Although the job WIN Centers are closed, she said, people can call the center’s number to reach someone at Employment Security about filing an unemployment claim. The number for the Center in Warren County is  (601) 638-1452.

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