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Delaware weekly unemployment claims fall to lowest pandemic level

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WILMINGTON – Delaware’s unemployment claims volume fell to their lowest weekly total during the COVID-19 pandemic last week, as state labor officials also sought to fix errors related to its self-employed assistance program.

Filings in the week of May 24-30 totaled 3,052 claims, a drop of more than 1,500 claims week-over-week, the Delaware Department of Labor reported Thursday. The total claims filed during the pandemic have pushed up to 103,527.

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 roughly 22% 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 went back to work full-time this month as the state lifted some restrictions on businesses.

As of last week, more than 64,500 workers are receiving unemployment insurance payments from the state, an increase of about 4,500 from the prior week, ending a one-week drop in continued claims.

The insured unemployed data represents a state unemployment rate of 14%, in line with Delaware’s official April unemployment rate of 14.3% – a modern record surpassed only by estimates from the Great Depression.

Earlier in May, state labor officials reported that more than 6,000 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.

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.

Last week, Darryl Scott, director of the Delaware Division of Unemployment Insurance, said that his office had directed more than 16,500 claimants over to the so-called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. The unemployment office has been concerned, however, with the lack of response to those notifications. As of May 28, only 6,000 of the then 14,000 PUA eligible claimants had followed through the system to apply for benefits, Scott said.

“Given the number of people who were asking for it and the mailing being sent, we’re digging in to try and understand [why the response has been lower],” he added. “We knew there might be some fall off, but we just didn’t expect that number.”

The PUA system, which was set up in just a few weeks to work with the Internal Revenue Service, has also been hampered by errors. This week, the state labor department reported that the system has erred in marking many of the submitted PUA claims as processed, causing filers to believe they would be receiving payment when their claim had yet to be reviewed.

“We are working as quickly as possible to review, approve, and pay these unique claims while avoiding the threats of fraud and identity theft occurring around the country,” the department said in a statement.

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 nearly $327.2 million in claims from March 15 to May 30. A historic weekly high for payments has been about $3 million, but last week saw payment of about $45.2 million – a decrease of about $2 million from the previous week.

The state’s trust fund has seen an infusion of more than $209 million from the federal government, while the state has paid out almost $117.5 million through the crisis. State officials have said that they expect to use a large chunk of the $1.25 billion allocation to Delaware under the CARES Act to bolster the Unemployment Trust Fund.

By Jacob Owens

[email protected]

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