Data: Nebraska Department of Labor | Graphic by Chris Bowling
Data: Nebraska Department of Labor | Graphic by Chris Bowling

Unemployment claims climbed to their highest total in two years to 281,000 as businesses across the nation close their doors due to the spread of coronavirus. In Nebraska those totals rose 60 percent since Feb. 29, from 497  to 799. 

The worst is yet to come, however, and the Trump administration is asking labor officials not to report those numbers disrupting stock market progress while unemployment could reach as high as 20 percent. The trend, should the Department of Labor make those numbers available, will most likely continue in Nebraska as Governor Pete Ricketts announced restaurants should switch to delivery and curbside pickup affecting the third most popular industry in the state which employed 82,880 at the end of 2019.

But for jobless individuals around the nation, the state and federal government have offered some solutions and relaxed standards to provide increased unemployment benefits and expanded sick leave.

Those employees out of work are coming in large numbers to the Nebraska Department of Labor for unemployment benefits to tide them over in the coming weeks and potentially months.

Last week that agency announced it would do away with several unemployment application requirements as well as expedite benefits. Among the relaxed standards are waiving the need to show people are still looking for work as well as the one-week waiting period for benefits to kick in. However, after applying for benefits it can still take up to three weeks for officials to contact employers and verify the claim.

Awarded benefits amount to 50 percent of how much workers typically make in a week with a $440 cap. Those benefits last 26 weeks or until the worker has received one-third their base period wages.

While there are no plans to expand benefits or relax standards further, the state’s Department of Labor is monitoring the pandemic’s effect on the workforce and could adjust its system accordingly, said Grace Johnson, a public information officer with the agency.

“Especially with this situation as it’s evolving so quickly there could be something that comes up that requires a change, we just don’t know,” she said.

For employers weighing layoffs, the Nebraska Department of Labor also offers the short-time compensation program. This alternative to layoffs allows employers to maintain their workforce by filling pay gaps with unemployment benefits as they cut hours.

In addition, a new law signed into effect Wednesday, expands paid sick leave nationally. It’s the first time the United States has had federally mandated sick leave. This law applies to most workers at mid-sized to small companies as well nonprofits and government agencies. It also includes 12 weeks of sick leave for those caring for children.

The extension, however, does not apply to 48 percent of workers who work at companies with more than 500 employees. Employers can also decline sick leave if it affects healthcare workers, first responders and others on the front lines of the crisis.

Those on leave would receive their usual pay with a cap of $511 a day. The federal government will reimburse employers those funds in the form of a payroll tax credit.

You’ll be able to access this paid leave after April 2 when the Labor Department releases guidelines to businesses on how much employees should receive.

If you’re currently unemployed or fear you may face unemployment, here’s a guide to what you need to apply for benefits.

  • Go online to and create an account
  • To apply allot about an hour of time and gather a variety of information including:
    • Your Social Security Number
    • Home mailing address, zip code and county you live in
    • Telephone number
    • Your email address
    • Driver’s license number or State ID card number
    • If you select direct deposit, your bank routing number and account number
    • The company names for all your employers from the past 18 months as they appear on your paycheck stubs or W-2 forms
    • Complete mailing addresses of employers, including ZIP code and the city in which the business is physically located
    • Your start and end dates with each employer, including month, day, and year
    • Your reason for leaving each employer (lack of work, voluntary quit, discharge, leave of absence)
    • Employment authorization number and expiration date (if a non-citizen)
    • If you served in the military the past 18 months, DD 214 Member #4 Form
    • If you worked for the federal government as a civilian employee in the last 18 months, Standard Form 8 or Standard Form 50. Also, compile your total wages earned with the federal employer in the last 18 months and indicate how you were paid (hourly, weekly, and monthly).

Chris has worked for The Reader since January 2020. As an investigative reporter and news editor he’s taken deep dives into topics such as police transparency, affordable housing and COVID-19. Originally...

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