Unemployment claims have flooded the Delaware Department of Labor since mid-March, with claims now nearly equaling the number received over the past two years.
Since March 15 when out-of-work residents began seeking assistance, the state has received 61,842 claims for unemployment insurance, breaking a monthly record after the first two days of filings, said Department of Labor Secretary Cerron Cade.
“This is a staggering number compared to what we've processed in the past,” he said.
The DOL Monthly Labor Review for March 2020 listed an unemployment rate of 5.1 percent, up from 3.5 percent in February. However, the report measures data from mid-February to mid-March, a period of time just before unemployment numbers skyrocketed. In April, the report will use data from mid-March to mid-April, which will include the record-breaking filings. Thomas Dougherty, chief labor market economist for DOL, said the unemployment rate will probably be higher than 5.1 in the April report.
“I think that is a fair expectation, but we will have to wait for the next report for an exact figure,” he said.
Initial unemployment claims for the week ending April 18 were 9,294, down from 13,258 the week before. Claims first spiked the week ending March 21 with 10,720, more than 20 times the previous week of 473. Claims peaked at 18,987 on March 28 and then slightly dropped to 18,863 by April 4.
Payments go out
The state is now paying $30 million to workers per week, up from a previous weekly high of $1.5 to $3 million, Cade said.
More than 65 percent of people who have applied have received benefits, Cade said. Those who fill out applications online that the state can easily verify should receive a check within a week, he said. To continue to receive benefits, the claimant must make a claim each week through the online system. “You have to say how much you earned the week prior, and request your benefit,” Cade said.
DOL uses LexisNexus as a security system to prevent fraud, and it asks specific questions that only the person filing should know, he said. “But sometimes people get those wrong, and we end up having to hold benefits until they can respond and say that they are the person who is trying to apply,” Cade said.
In a previous Facebook Live conference, Cade said the department has received a high volume of phone calls, many from people calling 20 times a day or more. At the time, he asked people to only call once so that workers could process all the calls, but he said DOL continues to receive a large volume of phone calls.
To help process an email backlog, Cade said DOL has hired a call center to respond to email claimants. Once those are under control, the contracted call center will transition to the phones to help with people calling in. “We imagine if we can get through the emails then that will have an impact on the calls,” he said.
DOL has also moved employees from other divisions to help with claims processing, Cade said.
Cade referred people to the online website email@example.com for the fastest service. Information is also available by texting uifacts at 555888.
Benefits for self-employed
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provides unemployment assistance to independent contractors and self-employed workers – a segment of workers accounting for about 20 percent of total claims since March, Cade said.
On April 16, DOL said it was working with a vendor to develop a new program to process unemployment claims for independent contractors and self-employed – two groups that previously would not qualify for unemployment benefits.
Officials said the Division of Unemployment Insurance is working with the Internal Revenue Service to determine eligibility of independent contractors and the self employed. The new system is expected to be available in a few weeks, and once up and running, independent contractors and self-employed people will need to provide a driver's license or state-issued identification, last year's income tax statement or quarterly earnings, Delaware business license number, and a current bank account and routing number.