CORONAVIRUS

Jobless benefits for Iowans tops $547 million since April 4

(Elizabeth Robertson/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)
(Elizabeth Robertson/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Unprecedented numbers of Iowa workers idled by an economic shutdown brought on by the coronavirus epidemic have been paid about $547.3 million in federal and nearly $293.2 million in state unemployment benefits since the pandemic hit the state in March, according to Iowa Workforce Development data.

The surge in job losses brought on by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ public health disaster emergency order in mid-March closing a wide swatch of Iowa businesses and activities to slow the COVID-19 spread has begun to subsidize as restrictions are lifted and more retail establishments reopen under scaled-back caveats designed to limit crowd sizes, promote heightened hygiene standards and maintain social distancing.

Even so, unemployment benefits paid to jobless workers remained high with 16,735 claims filed during the week that ended Saturday, according to IWD data issued Thursday.

The weekly claims for unemployment insurance benefits were down from the 24,693 filed the previous week and well below the weekly peak hit last month of 64,194 as businesses were ordered to shut down or work from home to mitigate the rise in positive coronavirus cases in Iowa.

IWD officials said Thursday there were 15,411 initial claims by individuals who work and live in Iowa, and 1,324 claims by individuals who work in Iowa and live in another state. The number of continuing weekly unemployment claims was 191,257.

Unemployment insurance benefit payments totaled $52.9 million for the same week, bringing the total paid since the week of March 15-21 to nearly $293.2 million, according to IWD reports.

Industries hit hardest with jobless claims in Iowa the past week were manufacturing (4,065), self-employed, independent contractors and other non-specified categories (2,103), health care and social assistance (1,865), accommodation and food services (1,269), and retail trade (1,133).

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More than $108.2 million in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits was paid the past week. Since April 4, a total of $547,345,200 in benefits has been paid. More than $7 million was paid to 13,075 Iowans receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits in the week ending May 2.

Officials with the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that nearly 3 million Americans filed claims for state and federal jobless benefits last week. That pushed the total number of benefit seekers to about 36.5 million over the past two months.

The April unemployment rate nationally was 14.7 percent while the latest Iowa jobless rate reported for March was 3.7 percent but state officials expected that to be higher when a new report comes out later this month.

Beginning on Friday, restaurants, hair salons, barbershops and other on premise businesses closed for about two months in Iowa’s 22 counties hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak will begin to reopen under new precautions and capacity limitations similar to what the rest of the state has been experiencing since May 1.

Reynolds and state Department of Public Health officials announced Wednesday that positive test results have stabilized enough that Iowans can move into the recovery phase of reopening the economy but under strict compliance with social-distancing and sanitary guidelines. However, bars, casinos, indoor theaters and a list of other businesses involving higher-risk activities will remain closed until at least May 27, the governor said.

For more information on the total data for this week’s unemployment claims, visit https://www.iowalmi.gov/unemployment-insurance-statistics.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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