BUSINESS

The Waiting Game: Unemployment offices struggle to address record number of claims

Economic assistance
Economic assistance

Landon Prestwood
Oxford Stories
lpprestw@go.olemiss.edu

With self-quarantine and social distancing now in effect until April 30, many employers nationwide are facing yet another month without business.

This operations slow down has inevitably left a projected 47 million Americans without work, and could leave the U.S seeing upcoming unemployment rates at a staggering 32 percent.

With a record number of 3.3 million Americans filing for unemployment nationwide, unemployment offices are doing everything they can to stay afloat.

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security reports that unemployment claims have skyrocketed to an estimated 600 percent due to coronavirus-related layoffs.

“We’re getting thousands of calls a day,” MDES employee Scott Summerlin said. “In a normal week, we might get a few hundred calls or more, but for there to be thousands of laid off workers applying for unemployment is almost unheard of.”

Summerlin said the MDES has hired more staff to help alleviate and sort through the high volume of calls.

Mississippi Department of Employment Security
Mississippi Department of Employment Security

“Applicants are urged to apply online if at all possible, but if not, contacting your local WIN Jobs Center is the next best option,” he said. “Even though the offices aren’t open to the public, applicants still have the ability to place applications in drop boxes for the claims to then be reviewed by hand.”

Summerlin said the following people are eligible to apply:

  • Those who have personally lost their jobs due to COVID-19
  • Those who have COVID-19 or are self-quarantined due to contracting the virus.
  • Or those with an immediate family member who has become ill

“We are processing as many (applications) as we can, as quickly as we can,” he said.

Governor Tate Reeves has also waived the two-week waiting period for unemployment benefits effective on all claims filed from March 8 to June 27. And he has suspended unemployment guidelines that enforce “work search requirements” – weekly job applications that a person would usually have to fill out to receive benefits.

The capitol building in Jackson.

Cameron Burnam, a student at Belhaven University in Jackson and a part-time waiter, said it’s been a week and a half since he submitted his claim online.

“As soon as I was laid off, the first thing I did was apply for unemployment- thinking that the sooner I applied, the better,” Burnam said. “But, I guess that’s not the case here.

“When I call to check on the status of my application, it prompts me to leave a message and says that they will return my call when they have the chance to review my claim. I’ve left three messages and have yet to hear back. It’s frustrating.”

Another applicant, Morgan Greer said she filed her claim over two weeks ago and has yet to get a response from anyone on the phone.

“Don’t make any mistakes when you file your claim,” she said. “I made a few minor errors when I filed, and I can’t get in touch with anyone to fix it. When I check the status online, it tells me that my claim is being reviewed in the order that it was received. We’re basically playing the waiting game.”

Greer said soon after filing, an automated email was sent to her with an estimated benefit amount. She said her benefit amount was only $100 a week.

MDES in Jackson

MDES reports that their pay range is based on a 26-week work period in which you are paid based on how much you worked and how much you earned during that base period. The lower range being around $100 or less, and the maximum amount being $235.

Employment benefits average around $213 per week, according to the MDES, which is one of the lowest unemployment payouts in the United States.

Most of these filings are from workers who have jobs in the service industry, such as restaurants and hotels, along with other jobs that have been deemed non-essential, such as some recreational and transportation jobs.

Both Greer and Burnam worked in the restaurant industry.

MS Dept of Human Services: Brandon, MS

“Even if you don’t think you’re eligible for benefits, it never hurts to apply,” said Erica Venible, an employee at the Jackson Workforce Investment Network Job Center. “Our job is to try and find as many employment opportunities as we can during this time, but I would suggest anyone to apply if they have been affected in any way by the coronavirus.”

Mississippi is just one state struggling with the unprecedented number of claims. States like Tennessee, Texas, and Florida say they are also having to hire hundreds of staffers to keep up with the high demand of claims.

Some have said this record high rate in coronavirus unemployment could be the worst it has been since the Great Depression.

According to Venible, to apply for unemployment in Mississippi an applicant may apply online at http://www.mdes.ms.gov, call 888-844-3577, or visit your local WIN Jobs Center.

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