Shared from the 3/18/2020 The Providence Journal eEdition

Jobless wave rises

Nearly 7,000 Rhode Islanders filed for unemployment coverage on Monday alone


Gov. Gina Raimondo, shown here in a Monday news conference with Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, on Tuesday said, “Our unemployment insurance fund is getting hit pretty hard right now. ... Congress needs to pass another stimulus to replenish that fund.” [THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / KRIS CRAIG]

Rhode Island unemployment insurance claims are soaring with the economy slowed by the novel corona-virus and thousands of people suddenly out of work.

On Monday, 6,911 Rhode Islanders applied for jobless benefits, pushing the total to file for unemployment or temporary disability insurance because of the disease beyond 10,000 in the last week, according to figures from the state Department of Labor and Training.

To put those numbers in perspective, on the previous Monday, Rhode Island saw 160 unemployment insurance claims. And the 11,447 claims filed in the past week was nearly as many as claims as the state had in all of January (11,607).

“We are seeing a skyrocket in our unemployment insurance claims,” Gov. Gina Raimondo told reporters Tuesday in her daily COVID-19 news briefing.

Unemployment insurance claims began to rise late last week before taking off over the weekend.

(The Labor Department is asking applicants if their loss of employment is related to the pandemic. On Sunday all but 190 claims were listed as COVID-related and on Monday all but 629 were listed as directly COVID-related.)

Temporary disability insurance claims are also climbing, from what is usually a handful of daily claims last week to 105 on Sunday and 325 claims on Monday. In the past week the state attributes 545 disability insurance claims to the coronavirus.

Seeing the wave of job losses building, the state waived the usual seven-day waiting period before someone can file for benefits. Unemployment insurance provides around around half a recipient’s former weekly wages for a maximum of 26 weeks.

The state pays unemployment insurance benefits out of a fund supported by employer taxes — taxes that have declined in recent years as the unemployment rate has fallen.

At the current pace of payouts, that unemployment insurance trust fund will run dry at some point barring federal intervention, Raimondo said.

“Our unemployment insurance fund is getting hit pretty hard right now,” she told reporters. “The right thing is the Congress needs to pass another stimulus to replenish that fund.”

How long does the state have?

“It depends. Like everything these models depend on the assumptions; if 10,000 people a day hit it, we are talking a month and a half to two months,” Raimondo said. “If more people do, then it is less.”

The federal Small Business Administration on Tuesday approved a disaster declaration for Rhode Island that will allow businesses to apply for low-interest or no-interest loans of up to $2 million to pay for operations during the slowdown.

But Raimondo said she needs more from Congress.

“For those of you struggling ... know that every single day I am pushing as hard as I can with the president, with our federal delegation,” she said, “to ask the federal government to step up as soon as possible with relief, more unemployment insurance, a stimulus package, more low- or no-interest loans to businesses.” panderson@


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