Nearly 49,000 Delawareans sought unemployment over past three weeks

DOVER — As the coronavirus continues to spread, Delaware saw nearly 19,000 people file for unemployment last week. The total number of unemployment claims submitted from March 15-April 4 now stands at 48,626, a figure that dwarfs all prior records.

Although the monthly figures aren’t in yet, it’s safe to say they’ll top the previous mark many times over: The highest monthly total prior to March was 9,632 in January 2002.

The busiest month during the Great Recession was January 2009, with 8,948 claims.

In fact, Delaware saw more submissions on March 16, 17 and 18 alone than in any month over the past 30 years.

According to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor Thursday, 18,863 Delawareans (or people who reside in another state but work here) filed for unemployment from March 29-April 4. There were 19,137 claims here the week before and 10,776 from March 15-21.

From March 8-14? Just 473.

For comparison, Delaware announced its first coronavirus case on March 11 and began imposing some limitations the next day. Non-essential businesses have been closed here by order from Gov. John Carney since March 24.

Nationally, about 16.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment from March 15-April 4, including 6.61 million last week. In other words, about one in 20 Americans has sought unemployment in less than a month.

Per the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment claims jumped from 282,000 for the week ending March 14 to nearly 3.31 million over the following seven days before climbing to 6.87 million one week later. (Unlike the federal data, the state claims are not seasonally adjusted.)

Delaware has expanded unemployment benefits due to economic downturn, and the sheer volume of claims prompted the state to hold a livestream Thursday with Labor Secretary Cerron Cade answering questions and offering advice. At least 900 people tuned in at the peak, with questions flying in the chat.

Mr. Cade urged individuals to be patient, saying the department has simply been swamped, receiving around 70,000 phone calls a day recently.

“We’re here to tell you that our agency is working around the clock to make sure that you can get each and every one of your claims,” he said.

People who have sent questions or claims in are urged to sit tight and wait for a response, or in the case of a claim, approval or denial. The department has hired new people to help handle the volume, which at one point overwhelmed the phone system so much it stopped taking any more calls, Mr. Cade said.

Delaware’s maximum weekly benefit is $400, although federal funding is providing an additional $600 for unemployment on top. An individual can receive benefits up to 26 weeks in a year.

Some of the restrictions have been waived by the state for the time being, designed to broadly help people impacted by the virus.

Workers who are self-employed or independent contractors should not submit unemployment claims at this point because the state has not yet received guidance from the federal government on how to handle that, Mr. Cade said. Those individuals do not pay into the unemployment insurance fund, meaning they normally would not qualify for the benefit.

When the department has resolved the initial issues, it will update its online resource at Individuals can also text uifacts to 555888 to get information.

In response to one question, Mr. Cade noted people whose wages are being garnished will have that sum taken out of their stimulus check. Answering another, he explained a person who qualifies for benefits for a week but has them held up due to an issue when applying will receive backpay.

Individuals can visit for more information or to apply for benefits and should email with any questions they have not already submitted.

Unemployment claims

Record-setting numbers of Delawareans have sought unemployment benefits over the past three weeks as the coronavirus spreads and much of the country continues to be essentially shut down. Below is data from the Delaware Department of Labor showing the number of claimants per week going back to February.

Note that this contains only initial claim totals, which end up being revised slightly (for instance, March 22-28 was changed to 19,137 when the most recent data was published Thursday).

Feb. 23-29: 527 claims

March 1-7: 520 claims

March 8-14: 473 claims

March 15-21: 10,720 claims

March 22-28: 18,987 claims

March 29-April 4:18,863 claims

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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