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NC unemployment claims pass 300,000 in 2 weeks

Posted March 31, 2020 10:12 a.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2020 7:09 p.m. EDT

— More than 300,000 people have filed for unemployment in North Carolina since coronavirus-related layoffs began.

The figure is unprecedented. Even during the recession years of the late 2000s, this would have been more than four months worth of new claims.

The 300,000-plus claims have come in since March 16, a span of about two weeks. The number is approaching twice what the state Division of Employment Security saw in all of 2019, when claims averaged about 3,200 a week.

The division took in more than 17,800 new claims Monday. Lobbyists for the state's restaurant and hotel industries told lawmakers Tuesday that more than 370,000 of their sectors' employees are out of work.

Those trying to file continue to report some difficulty using the filing website and extreme difficulty reaching anyone in DES' call centers on the phone.

"I've [at] a minimum of 40 times a day called, and I've emailed more than a dozen times," said Bryan Walston, who was laid off two weeks ago from his job at a Bridgestone Tire plant in Wilson.

When Walston filed for unemployment online, he said he got an error message telling him to call.

"That's when the process started with no communication. It hangs up on you every time you call," he said. "It's been difficult and very frustrating for a lot of my coworkers. Being out of work is a big issue."

Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday afternoon that DES has added a new server and contracted with an additional call center to handle some of the volume.

“Everyone of those claims is important," Cooper said during a news conference. "People over there are working so hard.”

DES officials said the first $3.4 million in unemployment checks have already been issued.

"We're pushing, pushing, pushing, and we want to get this money out to people because the families need it and our economy needs it," Cooper said.

People also have questions about how the state system will dovetail with a new federal provision, passed last week, to add $600 a week to unemployment checks. DES has released a fact sheet and FAQ on that program, along with answers to other questions.

The division said it's awaiting federal guidance on how to run a new program that will pay unemployment benefits to people who typically aren't eligible, including independent contractors and the self-employed.

Walston said he understands the struggle to handle the unprecedented mountain of claims, but he just wants the state to acknowledge his struggle.

"It's even more frustrating that you don't get any kind of answers," he said.

New unemployment claims in NC

On March 18, the N.C. Division of Employment Security began sporadically releasing details on the number of cumulative unemployment claims filed since March 16, most of them triggered by layoffs related to the novel coronavirus. See how those numbers compare to cumulative new claims filed during a similar time period in 2019 and the 2009 recession, acccording to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Source: N.C. DES, U.S. Department of Labor
Graphic: Tyler Dukes, WRAL

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