TORRINGTON – The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services is working to streamline its processes and relax eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Governor Mark Gordon has issued three statewide orders which closed most public businesses. The latest order, issued Tuesday night, closed hair salons, barber shops and tattoos shops statewide. Previous orders closed schools, restaurants and bars to prevent the spread of the potentially deadly novel coronavirus, leaving numerous people unemployed until a solution is found.
During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, DWS Director Robin Cooley said the department is one of the essential state services that will remain open and operational.
“I’m here to let you know that our department stands ready to help the workers and businesses of Wyoming at all times, especially now in the face of this challenge that we have in front of us,” she said.
Cooley said the department has brought in extra employees and will be adding more phone lines to help Wyoming workers and businesses navigate the recession caused by COVID-19 precautions.
“We are really working to maintain and stay ahead of those claims,” she said.
While workers in other states have reported long delays between filing claims and receiving benefits, Cooley said benefits are still available just two days after filing.
“We are seeing more than the usual number or people seeking unemployment at this time,” she said. “Our staff is, at this time, keeping up with that demand. Those who filed claims can still expect to get benefits in two days from the time they file them. You’ve heard some news about a waiting period, but in Wyoming, we do not have that waiting period.”
Wyoming received $1.7 million from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 18. Cooley said her department is working to access those funds and make them available to workers in need.
“We are gathering information and working with our attorney general’s office, the Secretary of State’s office, and the unemployment insurance commission to make sure we are doing what we need to be able to do access those funds.
“That means pushing through emergency rules that will relax some of the eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance around work search requirements, as well as some of the timing and the length of time you can receive some of those benefits. Hopefully, we’ll be able to push those through very quickly.”
Other agencies are stepping up to help displaced workers, as well. The city of Torrington announced Wednesday that it would be temporarily postponing utility disconnections during the crisis.
Wyrulec General Manager Ryan Schilreff said the company will make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Cooley said her department is also working to help businesses that will struggle during a prolonged battle against the pandemic.
“We’re hoping to avoid layoffs if possible,” she said. “We expect to allow our new emergency grant opportunities within the next few days to help businesses remain open and keep their employees working.
“I really want to make a plea to you that when you’re seeking unemployment insurance benefits, please do so by phone or online,” Cooley said. “What that will do is protect not only you, but also the workers we have in our office. We’re part of that state workforce that has to be there so we can make sure those benefits are going out to you in a timely manner.”