Unemployment claims have skyrocketed across North Carolina over the past week as more and more businesses are forced to lock their doors due to COVID-19.
The North Carolina Division of Employment Security processed more than 155,000 unemployment claims in eight days from March 16-24. The agency normally handles approximately 3,000 claims a week, but the effect of Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision to shutter key businesses across the state’s economic sector is beginning to take a toll on workers.
“It’s an unprecedented time for us,” said Larry Parker, Employment Security public information officer. “We are taking in more claims than we ever had at one point in our history. When it’s a recession, these things ramp up and take time. In this instance, it’s as if the flood gates were opened.”
Laid off workers flooded the employment security call center last week with questions regarding their benefit status. Parker said he hoped more workers would use the agency’s website first for any frequently asked questions before picking up the phone. Parker recommended people take their time when filing an initial claim and not rush through the process.
“We are taking in claims as quickly as possible and are encouraging folks to use our website as much as possible,” said Parker. “One of the things that we’re obviously dealing with is that people are calling our call center with a variety of questions that honestly can be answered online. We’ve tried to get folks to look at the COVID-19 FAQ. We want to reserve the call center for people who may have an issue filing online or may not have access to a computer to file a claim.”
After submitting an initial claim, Parker said people still need to file weekly certification. Gov. Cooper signed an executive order eliminating the typical one-week waiting period for benefits, but the process still takes around two weeks before someone can expect money to arrive. Employers, by law, have 10 days to respond to any unemployment claim.
“One of the things we’re really hitting hard is its been a week since a lot of people filed a claim,” Parker said. “They need to make sure they file their weekly certification. You don’t get paid unless you file a weekly certification. We’re reminding people to be patient while they’re filing their claim. Make sure you read everything on the website and through the claims process. Don’t feel like it’s a sprint. It’s not going to get you paid any quicker.
“Assuming there are no eligibility issues, and everything matches up on your claim, since there is no waiting period, you should receive two payments on that first payment that goes out.”
North Carolina built up a $3.8 billion unemployment trust fund since the last recession and will use those funds to pay out benefits. Additional funds are expected to be made available once Congress passes its coronavirus stimulus package. How high the unemployment goes over the next weeks is very much up in the air. North Carolina reported a 3.8% unemployment rate in January.
“We’ll pay for as much of it as we can,” said Parker. “We don’t have any estimates because we haven’t made any payments for COVID-19 yet. We haven’t hit that first payment week yet. We don’t know how that’s going to look in the system until we have a full week of payments. The fact is that despite already doing 150,000 claims, there are going to be more. We’ll see how long that money lasts.”
After experiencing some issues with the website last week to such a high volume of traffic, Parker said upgraded server capacity helped deal with the sudden surge. The website also features two options for coronavirus as a reason for being unemployed.
“There may still be some slowed down web pages in our claims applications, but the fact that we’ve been able to handle 150,000 claims in the past week shows that people are getting through and getting those claims filed,” Parker said. “We’ve really just asked folks to make sure filling out their claim’s a marathon, not a sprint. Make sure you’re reading everything correctly.”
For more information, visit des.nc.gov.
Eliot Duke can be reached at email@example.com or at 910-230-2038.