Out the back of an eighth week out of the previous nine where initial unemployment insurance benefits claimants decreased, Delaware hit a historic first--more continuous claims were filed than any previous point in the division's recorded history.
While only 3,052 individuals filed for the first time this week, there was troubling news:
"The other key stat from this week is our continuous claims figure jumped to its highest level ever, at least in the last 30 years that we have data--and, we believe, in the state's history--at 64,580," said Darryl Scott, director for the Division of Unemployment Insurance. "We've been working extremely hard to resolve issues that have challenged people to get paid. They miss a certification or there was a mistake made, and we've been focusing very heavily on those types of claims and trying to get people at leas get a payment started and get them some assistance."
That number represents roughly 21% of Delaware's total workforce. Initial claims for the previous 11 weeks broke down as follows:
- March 15 - 21: Initial Claims - 10,720
- March 22 - 28: Initial Claims - 18,987
- March 29 - April 4: Initial Claims - 18,863
- April 5 - April 11: Initial Claims - 13,258
- April 12 - April 18: Initial Claims - 9,294
- April 19 - April 25: Initial Claims - 7,754
- April 26 - May 2: Initial Claims - 6,183
- May 3 - May 9: Initial claims - 5,197
- May 10 - May 16: Initial claims - 5,584
- May 17 - May 23: Initial claims - 4,651
- May 24 - May 30: Initial Claims - 3,052
There was also a major setback last week which resulted in thousands of claims mistakenly being removed from the queue, an error the agency is working overtime to try and resolve.
"Last week we were working with our vendor who implemented the system to identify claims that might be paid [under the expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance regulations,]" he said. "When the initial list was pulled, it changed the status and it was unknown to us that this was going to occur, that it changed the status from 'filed' to 'paid.' When we reviewed the file, most of the people in the file, we had not yet reviewed or been able to validate that they had wages or earnings from 2019, and so we were only able to pay a small number of them. Then we ended up reverting the status back to 'filed.' Unfortunately, it disappointed a lot of people. We were disappointed we weren't able to pay everybody."
Scott said they've paid out an additional 1,000 claims in just the last few days alone, and some of the claims are for 10 weeks of benefit payments as they review cases that were initiated in mid-March. He said he's disappointed they didn't see even more cases, though, as they'd mailed thousands of eligibility letters and have seen less than half respond and submit claims.
"We built the system and are continuing to add staff to be able to support the needs of Delawareans, and are not looking for fewer people to apply than are eligible," he said. "The program was authorized by Congress to provide assistance for individuals who aren't traditionally eligible for regular unemployment. We've deployed the system and are ready to, as quickly as we can, process the claim, authorize the payment, and make those payments. If someone's eligible, we want to be able to give them the opportunity to apply and receive the benefits that Congress authorized us to to pay."
Delaware's Unemployment trust fund is also rapidly diminishing. Scott anticipated, with a historic number of claims, the fund would be depleted by mid-summer.
"Delaware's prepared to borrow money as needed, and as authorized from the federal government, the US Department of Labor," he said. "We believe we'll need to begin borrowing money in the July time-frame. We've completed the paperwork, we have the account access, and we've been authorized to to borrow the funds is needed to continue to pay claims and uninterrupted."
While Scott reiterated that those who are offered a position back to work as Delaware's economy reopens, but decline that role, could lose benefits. He noted this week, however, that there would be an appeals process available for those in danger of losing benefits.
"Employers, as they're beginning to reopen, have encountered employees that have declined to return to work," he said. "We're about to make an announcement that reminds people that are on unemployment that if they're offered their job back--under the same sort of conditions as they were working before that--if they refuse, they put their unemployment insurance in jeopardy. In fact, refusal to return to work is a reason that they can be disqualified for receiving benefits going forward. So we're going to talk to the people receiving unemployment to make sure they understand their obligations. We're going to provide employers with a mechanism for reporting that information to us, so we can investigate it."
He explained that system would have a space for employees concerned about the conditions of their workplace to protest their environment and possibly continue to receive benefits.
"We're going to communicate to employers some minimal expectations with regard to addressing the health and safety of their employees as they return in the COVID pandemic era--ensuring that social distancing and personal protection devices and other factors of that nature are, and have been, considered as they bring employees back to work," Scott said. "In addition, we'll be telling employees their obligation. They can't just say 'I don't want to return to work.' If they have a concern, they have to pursue their administrative processes within the employer to raise the concern, and give the employer an opportunity to address them."
Last week we were, we were working with our partner. The vendor who implemented the systemto identify claims thatmight be paid.When the initial list was pulled it changed the status and it was known to us that this was going to occur, that it changed the status from file to paid. When we reviewed the file, there weremany, most of the people in thefile that we had not yet reviewed or been able to validatethat they had wages earnings,you know from 2000 wages or earnings from 2019.And so we were only able to pay a smallnumber of them.And thenwe ended up reverting the statusback to a file sounfortunatelyit you know it disappointed. A lot of people were disappointed thatwe weren't able to pay everybody,but we're trying to balance, one, the requirement to validate income, which is required by thefederal law and based on 2019.And also make sure given the increase in fraud that's, you know,occurring around the country regardingunemployment that we've done our due diligence to make sure that the claim should be paid. I will tell you that since last week. This weekwe will end up paying more than 1000we've in the last few days alone we've, we've approved payments for more than 1000 individuals that are receiving pandemic unemployment assistance and for some of those individuals that includes 10 weeks of benefit payments. As we were able to go back to the middle of March.For the first week of certification and thenthrough the, the week ending may 30.You know it,we, we initially mailed to 14,000 individuals we, a little more than 14,000 we've, we've probably added another 3000. Since the launch that we've notified of their eligibility and we've had just over 7000 people certify for, which is the first step in, in filing their claim. Those 7000, a little more than 6000 have actually submitted claims.And so wewe've, we've, we've just find it surprising right given the outreach andthe request for assistance thatless than half havehave submitted have even certified their account and begun the claim process. So we are in the process ofdoing a second wave of communication.And I know the team is looking at whether it's done via email, whether it's done via phone, second letter or combination thereof. We want to make sure that individuals who filed.That may believe they're eligiblefor pa that they're aware thatthat the system is up and available for them toto attempt to file a claim.Well,it is in that respect, but it's, we, I mean we built the system and are continuingto add staff to beable to support the needsof Delaware Ian's and notlooking for fewer people to apply than then are eligible if again the program was authorized by Congress to provide assistance for individuals who are traditionally eligible for regular unemployment. And,you know, we've deployed the system and are ready to as quicklyas we can process. You know, the claim authorize the payment and make those those payments so again we if someone's eligible we want to be able to give them the opportunity to apply and and receive the benefits that Congress authorized us to to pay.Yeah, so thethe cumin is what I'm showing is. As of May, 30 based on the number of people who have filed and again, using the Februaryworkforcenumbers, it's about 20 to 21% of the workforce have have filed for unemploymenthave filed in initial claim.The question is regarding the trust fund.So, so one, we,we were monitoring the sort of the trust fund on a daily basis. We started the week with about $86 million in the, in the trust fund. And as part of the cares act, they've, the federal government has provided a mechanism for states to borrow money at zero percent interestthrough the end of the year,to ensure that we're able to continue paying benefits,Delaware has completed the steps to, you know, we have the authorization from the governor to proceed we have the paperwork in place with us. Well, we have the account access, and we believe we'll have to take a loan or begin borrowing money in July. To continue providing unemployment insurance benefits, we're prepared to do that.Andthen we'll continue to do that as long as authorized by sort of that, while the loan mechanism is in place we'll afford ourselves with that ability. I just this was done during the last recession. And then we'll, you know, continue to look at ways thatwill work we'll work toreplenish the trust fund as the economy improves.Sorry about that.I guess, to try and say that again. So one Delaware's prepared to borrow money as needed, and as authorized from the federal government, US Department of Labor, we believe will need to take or begin borrowing money in the July timeframe. We've completed the paperwork, we have the account access, and we've been authorized to to borrow the funds is needed to continue to pay claims and uninterrupted.So I mean the data I have I I know for a fact it was done during the 2007, and nine recession, I don't know, just off top my head, whether it was done in 2001 and two, when there was another significant downturn in the economy, when it was last done, I think the borrowing exceeded $50 million. And, and again over employers over a number of years. Ended up replenishing the trust fund to pay off the loan and to, you know, build it to the hundred and $65 million that we had in March. And we are already beginning to look at, you know, what we may have to do in the coming years toagain to replenish the trust fund.So we, we can avoid. You know borrowing as quickly as possible. Yeah, the continuous claim. Again, we don't know where we don't know where the continuous claims numberswillwill peak out we know that you know we have anumber of people who are, who have filed claims thatmay have been paid.They missed a certification or they earn too much in a particular week that has caused them to fall again and restart their claim. So we know that there are people who have filed that are going through an initial determination of eligibility. That's several thousands of people that are in that process today so we may continue to see the continuous claim number climb a bit over the coming weeks but again as the economy reopens more businesses begin rehiring employees to come back. We've got a couple of competing factors there one people who haven't yet paid that will be paid. And then people who may be going off the unemploymentrolls so to speak to, as they returned to work.So it's, it's, it's an. It's an interesting question and one that we've we've already been faced with so employers as they're beginning to reopen have encountered employees that have declined to return to work. And so we're, we're about to make an announcement. With one that reminds me, you know people that are on unemployment that if they're offered their job back. And under the same sort of conditions as they were working before that, if they refuse they put their unemployment insurance in jeopardy. In fact refusal to return to work is a reason that they can be disqualified for receiving benefits going forward. So one we're going to talk to them for, you know, the people receiving unemployment to make sure they understand their obligations. We're going to provide employers with a mechanism for reporting that information to us, so we can investigate it. And the other component to that, DJ is that we're going tocommunicate to employers,some minimal expectations with regard to addressing the health and safety of their employees as they return in the COVID pandemic error right so ensuring that social distancing and personal protection protection devices and and other factors of that nature are are and have been considered as they bring employees back to work. And, in addition to telling employees their obligation. They can't just sayI don't want to return to work or if they have a concern.They have to presume pursue their administrative, you know, processes within the employer to to raise the concern and give the opportunity, give the employer an opportunity to address them so expect to see something from us and we're hopingin the next week to publish. You know both thewebsite. And both the employer and the employee information to make sure everybody understands their roles and responsibilities.Not at this time no I again I appreciate the, the conversation and opportunity to share updates from the division about employment. I guess the only play I would say is that we continue to hire people. We're hiring more claims processes we're hiring people to help us make determinations of eligibility will soon be hiring appeals referees that will hear, you know, if individuals or employers don't agree with the decision we made then they have the ability to appeal so we continue to hire more people to support the business, understanding that we need to answer more calls, emails, and do it more quickly.So we're, we're in the hiring business right now. I know you're gonna ask me that.I'll shoot you an email,I apologize, I just don't know the link to where,where those will be posted but I'll shoot you an email if you don't mind with that information. Okay.You got it. Thanks. Have a great day. Bye.