Unemployment insurance claims are still reaching unprecedented levels across the Ohio Valley region.
At least 287,576 people in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia joined those seeking help during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That’s in addition to the roughly 755,000 claims form the three states in the previous two weeks.
The data released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Labor showing more than 5.25 million unemployment claims around the country.
Labor Department figures for the week ending April 10 show Kentucky with 115,763 claims; Ohio with 157,218; and West Virginia with 14,595.
Officials from the three states are looking to the jobless figures to understand how deep of a recession the region could be in for. Backlogs across Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia continue to be a problem with some people initially being rejected for their unemployment claim.
Kentucky officials announced this week that the additional $600 a week federal unemployment benefit has been sent out to 156,931 people totaling over $139 million. According to Josh Benton, the Deputy Secretary of Kentucky’s Workforce Development Cabinet, the state has had 521,592 unemployment claims since March 16.
Kentucky Center for Economic Policy Executive Director Jason Bailey said the unemployment assistance program is dealing with an unprecedented amount of claims and that raises an important question.
“Are the levels of support and benefits we’re offering people adequate for the kind of economic calamity that we’re really facing at this point?”
Bailey said unemployment claims could begin to decrease only to be followed by a second surge of claims as the economic fallout begins to affect different sectors of the economy.
He said the reported claims are just one portion of people who are unemployed and need assistance. It doesn’t include people whose claims are still waiting to be decided, employers who are challenging those claims, or those who aren’t yet eligible for unemployment benefits.
Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said there have been more unemployment claims made in the last month than there were in the last two years and the state is also still dealing with a backlog of those applications.
“We’re in this battle with the system that we have and it worked well. When the unemployment rate was 4% it worked fine. Both in terms of technology and staffing. It was adequate for the task it was being called to do.”
Husted said before the pandemic there were about 42 people working in the unemployment call center and now there are almost 1,200.
The Lt. Gov. said the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services hopes to have 337 more people trained and working to address the backlog in unemployment assistance applications soon. Additionally, Husted announced that by the end of next week Ohio will begin processing the additional $600 a week in assistance from the federal CARES Act.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said the state is processing nearly 40 times what they would normally see in unemployment applications and they are also still trying to address a backlog. In an attempt to get payments out to West Virginians sooner Justice announced people will be able to get a direct payment instead of having a debit card mailed to them.