HELENA — New filings for unemployment benefits in Montana skyrocketed to 23,665 people in the last seven days — and that came on top of almost 17,000 from the week before.
The trajectory of Montanans filing for unemployment has followed the national trend, which has seen 10 million people file in the past two weeks, ending last Saturday.
The dramatic increase has come in the wake of an economic meltdown brought on by the spread of Covid-19, as thousands of businesses close their doors and Montanans are at a stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Steve Bullock.
Businesses deemed essential can remain open, but with few people venturing out of their homes, business revenue has declined, with many companies furloughing or laying off workers.
The biggest day for new jobless benefit filings in Montana this year was last Friday, when nearly 5,000 people filed.
The rate hasn’t been much lower this week, ranging from 3,400 to 4,000 a day, Monday through Wednesday. Just a month ago, new unemployment-benefit filings for a week in Montana were less than 100.
Perhaps the only good news is that benefits will be increasing by $600 a month and self-employed people out of work will be eligible for the benefits. Both of those changes are contained in the massive $2.2 trillion stimulus bill passed last weekend by Congress, in response to the coronavirus-related economic slowdown.
State Labor Department officials said they’re waiting for guidance from the U.S. Labor Department before implementing those changes. However, the department has said the benefit-changes will be back-dated to either March 15 or March 23.
Under current law, unemployed workers get a percentage of their last job's wages, and the maximum weekly benefit is $552. The federal benefits will add $600 a week to whatever benefit Montana workers would already get.
The state, under emergency rules, also is waiving the typical one-week wait period before claimants start receiving benefits and not required Covid-19-related claimants to report job searches.
The Labor Department said it has trained 70 Job Service employees to help with unemployment questions and is reassigning other agency workers and bringing back some retired employees to help with the increased workload.