Jobless Claims Mount as Employers and Workers Face Bleak Outlook

on Mar20
by | Comments Off on Jobless Claims Mount as Employers and Workers Face Bleak Outlook |

Signaling how uneasy policymakers are about further roiling the financial markets, the Trump administration is asking state labor officials to delay releasing the precise number of unemployment claims they are fielding.

In some states, overwhelmed systems collapsed.

“It was so frustrating,” said Tim Tilley, who was laid off from his kitchen job at an Olive Garden in Ohio on Tuesday. For four hours that day and eight hours on Wednesday, he tried to file a claim. The website crashed repeatedly — after three attempts, he was locked out. He called dozens of times but was bumped from prompt to prompt, only to end up at the original automated message.

Rules for unemployment benefits vary across the country. States follow federal guidelines but administer their own programs. Each state uses its own formula to decide what percentage of weekly wages will be covered (50 percent, for example) and for how long (generally 26 weeks).

Emergency legislation that Mr. Trump signed into law on Wednesday would increase funding for states with surges in claims and pare back eligibility restrictions like waiting times and job search requirements. Although the rules are shifting, policy experts said, workers who have been quarantined or furloughed without pay should qualify.

Still, many workers could be left out entirely. Some states do not cover part-time workers, and many others have made it difficult for temporary workers to qualify. Gig workers are also often ineligible because they are typically considered self-employed.

In Maryland, for example, many applicants are confused about whether they would qualify for benefits if they became sick from the coronavirus and had to take time off or quit. The answer: No. Self-quarantines don’t qualify, either. But if a business had to shut down or lay workers off because of the virus, they could qualify.

Nicholas Javier, a restaurant server at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, is hoping he will. On Monday, he received a text indicating that he should not show up the next day. The hotel restaurant where he worked was being shut down, and he and his fellow servers were no longer needed. Nearly all of the hotel’s roughly 140 housekeepers were sent home as well, said Mr. Javier, a union shop steward.

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