The Nebraska Department of Labor is continuing to expand as it tries to cut through an unprecedented torrent of claims for unemployment benefits, says Labor Commissioner John Albin.
In the last three weeks, Nebraskans and people across the nation have overloaded labor departments as businesses have shuttered or slowed due to the spread of Covid-19.
Last week more than 26,000 Nebraska applied for unemployment benefits. That brings the total number of Nebraskans who applied in the past three reported weeks to 67,028.
Commissioner Albin said he doesn’t know how many claims the state’s Department of Labor processes a day, only that they’ve been unable to keep pace.
“We received a year and a half’s worth of claims in three weeks,” he said.
The response has been an “all hands on deck” response. Albin said they’re pulling people in to process claims from across the department as well as hiring out help. The product is a team that increased from 34 to 70 and will probably increase again to about 120.
“We’ve had to ramp up in short order,” he said.
The department is not changing anything about how it processes a claim, per federal requirements. Albin said the department is working around the clock, each staggering a week at the office and a week working from home, to reduce the stack of claims.
The department did lift some requirements which were lifted in March including that an applicant be searching for work.
Albin said right now the department is following federal guidelines that suggests someone should receive a payment 21 days after filing. They made their first round of payments to 12,000 Nebraskans on March 22.
Albin also said the department received guidance on distributing the additional $600 per unemployment check, provided by the federal government. That boost, a product of the CARES Act passed in March, is a blanket check and applies to all receiving unemployment benefits. That includes workers not usually considered unemployment eligible who can now apply.
The federal government sent departments of labor guidance on distributing the $600 check last weekend, a week after the CARES Act passed. Albin said the department’s information technology people are readying their system to distribute the checks which should go out next week.
Payments for part-time, freelance and other workers not usually eligible for benefits will come the week after, he said. Those checks are paid through the Pandemic Employment Assistance program, also set up through the CARES Act.
Albin reiterated this benefit goes to everyone receiving unemployment benefits.
“It’s a flat $600,” he said. “If you’re owed $1 in unemployment benefits, the $600 will be paid.”
The department will pay those checks retroactively through March 29, according to the federal guidelines. The department will pay the federal $600 and state unemployment benefits with one direct deposit, he said.
Albin said the department has not received guidance on what to distribute after 26 weeks, the usual duration of unemployment benefits. The CARES Act calls for an additional 13 weeks of payments. Albin said he imagines it will be a continuation of whatever they received beforehand.