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Coronavirus Government News

Delaware unemployment claims fall again as state eyes trust fund’s future

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WILMINGTON – The number of new weekly unemployment filings fell to their lowest recorded level during the pandemic last week, as Delaware officials begin eyeing how to fund the tens of thousands of recipients through the end of the year.

Filings in the week that ended June 6 totaled 3,037 claims, just under the prior week’s total, the Delaware Department of Labor reported Thursday. Despite being the lowest weekly total yet, the numbers are roughly six times higher than the average weekly filings before the pandemic. The total claims filed during the pandemic is now 106,564.

Unemployment claims over the past few months have surpassed the total of the last three years’ claims combined but is not representative of how many workers are unemployed permanently, as employers statewide use temporary furloughs to cut expenses.

The data shows that almost 23% of the state’s workforce has filed an unemployment claim in the crisis, although some of those claims were denied; some of the workers have returned to their jobs after furloughs; and others have likely gone back to work full-time this month as the state lifted some restrictions on businesses or employers took advantage of PPP loans.

As of last week, more than 59,000 workers are receiving unemployment insurance payments from the state, a decrease of more than 5,000 from the prior week.

State labor officials also reported that 6,980 claims from newly eligible self-employed workers and independent contractors, made possible by the federal CARES Act, had been submitted through a new state processing system that began making payments May 16. Those claims totaled nearly $11.5 million.

Despite federal unemployment aid being extended to them in March, such workers, who don’t pay into the state’s unemployment trust fund to be insured against job losses, hadn’t been able to tap into relief funds because of a lack of a state system to verify their incomes. Those workers are now eligible for payments ranging from $733 to $1,000 per week, depending on proof of income documentation.

The historically high wave of assistance seekers has overwhelmed the manpower of the department and required federal stimulus funds to bolster the depleted state Unemployment Trust Fund, which has paid out about $372 million in claims from March 15 to June 6. A historic weekly high for payments has been about $3 million, but last week saw payment of about $45.1 million – roughly the same as the previous week.

The state’s trust fund has seen an infusion of more than $249 million from the federal government, while the state has paid out about $122 million through the crisis. State officials have said that they expect to use a large chunk of the state’s $927.2 million allocation under the CARES Act to bolster the Unemployment Trust Fund.

State officials are also currently requesting that New Castle County return about a third of its $322.8 million CARES Act allocation to help deal with unemployment funding as well. To date, however, the county has resisted those entreaties.

On Thursday, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer told Delaware Business Times that his administration is “talking behind the scenes” about the funds but didn’t confirm that the county would contribute funds to unemployment.

“There’s no place for us and the state to be arguing over this and that. We are working collaboratively,” he said, noting that many in the community need funding to support the pandemic’s response.

This week, state officials also reported that they were planning on utilizing a federal program to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to replenish the state’s trust fund, which will be depleted by July, according to the Associated Press.

Officials have submitted an initial request for $196 million to cover payments through August, and are expecting to borrow another $150 million in the fourth quarter. Delaware officials plan to take the money at zero interest and hold the CARES Act funding as a potential repayment fund if the terms of the lending program don’t become more favorable. Currently, if the loaned funds aren’t repaid by the end of the year, remaining balances would be subject to interest.

By Jacob Owens

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