CASPER — Thousands of Wyoming workers filed for unemployment insurance benefits last week as the economic fallout fueled by the spread of the coronavirus worldwide continues to shut down businesses, according to new data released by the Department of Workforce Services.
The state received 4,652 new claims for unemployment insurance last week — a 25 percent increase from the week before when 3,743 new claims came in.
That’s in addition to the 6,010 applications the department is still continuing to process from previous weeks.
Compared to the week of March 12, last week’s initial unemployment claims climbed a staggering 800 percent.
The leisure and hospitality industry has been hit especially hard by the economic slowdown, with 952 workers filing unemployment claims the week of March 15, according to the state’s data.
Construction and mining sectors have also shed several hundred workers.
Gov. Mark Gordon has not issued a shelter-in-place order for Wyoming, which would likely slow the state’s economy even more, though many medical professionals suggest such a move would be in the best interest of public health. Gordon has ordered the closure of Wyoming schools and businesses where people tend to congregate, like bars, coffee shops and hair salons.
The Department of Workforce Services has worked to adapt to the deluge of calls and applications. Callers have had to wait upward of three hours to reach a specialist, according to Ty Stockton, a spokesman for the agency.
In response, the agency has shifted several workers over to its claims division to process unemployment applications and answer phones. The agency has doubled the number of phone lines, too.
But it’s still not enough to meet the demand the workforce centers are facing, Stockton said.
“Right now there’s a big increase in unemployment claims,” Stockton said. “We’re having to think quickly and move quickly. People are working harder and we have more people working on this.”
A new change implemented Thursday by the department could help alleviate the stress on the filing system and reduce the number of people placed on hold. The times you can file an unemployment claim will be based on the first letter of your last name.
If your name begins with a letter between A and M you can file claims on Monday, Wednesday or before noon on Fridays. If your last name begins with a letter from N through Z, you file unemployment claims on Tuesdays, Thursdays or after noon on Fridays.
“We’re doing everything we can to try to ease the burden and make it more efficient,” Stockton said. “But we can’t get any bigger — we don’t have the space or bodies.”
Though workers who have lost their jobs must meet several qualifications before securing unemployment insurance, the federal government’s $2 trillion economic recovery package passed last month does extend benefits to more people, including self-employed workers or independent contractors, among others.
But according to Stockton, the state continues to wait on guidance from the Department of Labor on how to administer this new program.
Because of high call volumes and the need for social distancing, Workforce Services encourages people to file applications for benefits online at wyui.wyo.gov