At the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., the number of people who were filing unemployment was just about 280,000. A week later, that number jumped to more than 3,000,000. Thursday morning, the Department of Labor released its weekly “Jobless Claims Report,” which revealed 6.6 million people filed for unemployment last week.
“For many years, the unemployment systems have been underfunded and understaffed, and so a lot of places just simply aren’t prepared for this kind of demand on their services,” said Kevin De Liban, a legal aid attorney in Arkansas.
De Liban has been helping people who are struggling to get on unemployment, because the state’s system, like many others, is overwhelmed.
“Even under the best of times, unemployment is not always an easy process,” he explained. “It can take weeks to get all the paperwork in and processed and to actually get some money into your hands. Now, it is just, the situation is pretty dire.”
To help more people who are getting errors when processing a claim online or those struggling to get ahold of their unemployment department over the phone, De Liban is sharing the advice he’s giving to clients.
“In the short term, persist, persist, persist,” said De Liban. “In some states, the unemployment office is still open to people coming in, in-person, so take all your usual precautions, but if you can, it might be better to go in person.”
De Liban also recommends documenting every attempt you make to apply online, in person, or over the phone. It may help you get backdated unemployment benefits.
Once you get through, if you get denied, he recommends you seek out help from your local legal aid office. They will provide free help and guidance.
In the meantime, it is worth noting that state and federal officials are aware the unemployment systems are overwhelmed, and there is an effort to fix the problem many are dealing with.
“Some of the recent federal law changes are supposed to be providing some administrative funds to states to be able to beef up their ability to process applications,” said De Liban.
If there is some good news out of the unemployment process this week, it may be that addition funding for the system and additional money for everyone who is getting unemployment.
“For anybody who is eligible for employment, either under the normal program or under the new program, they will get a $600 per week supplement to their benefit level,” said De Liban.
That was part of the recent stimulus package passed by Congress. It is expected to take effect automatically and immediately, and the additional $600 is promised to those who need it until July 31, 2020.