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The Southwest Utah Bureau is based in the St. George area, and the reporting focuses on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues, faith and spirituality and other topics of relevance to Utahns.

'It's all hitting so quickly:' Coronavirus Layoffs Cause Spike In Unemployment Claims

Photo of the Sheraton Hotel in Salt Lake City
Wikimedia Commons
Yuwen Huo worked in sales at the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel until last week, when she was laid off. She said sales started dropping weeks ago, when the first travel restrictions went into place.

Erica Ridd worked at a restaurant called Punch Bowl Social in Salt Lake City until last Monday — when she got an email telling her she’d been laid off. 

“Reading it, my heart sank, and then I cried,” she said. “Just because it’s crazy that it’s all hitting so quickly.”

Ridd said she immediately tried to apply for unemployment online, but the website was down. She said her application went through when it came back up last Tuesday night. 

Ridd is one of hundreds of people in Utah who lost jobs due to the coronavirus last week, sending unemployment claims up 30% from the week before, according to the Department of Workforce Services. And claims are still pouring in, according to Kevin Burt, director of the Utah Unemployment Insurance Division. 

“Every state has seen it at a different time period,” he said. “Last week is when we saw the increase, and we’re still seeing an increase in demand this week for sure.”

The majority of new claims are filed by workers who are temporarily unemployed and hope to go back to the same job once coronavirus closures lift, Burt said. So the Department of Workforce Services has made a few changes to the program to respond to the current situation. 

It has relaxed some eligibility rules and will allow people who can’t work because they are forced to self-quarantine because of coronavirus to apply, even if they weren’t technically fired or furloughed. Burt said the department will consider those applications on a case-by-case basis and encouraged anyone who’s experiencing a disruption in employment due to the virus to apply. 

Burt also recommended that companies furlough their employees if they do expect to hire them back. Then employees can apply as “job attached,” which allows them to receive unemployment benefits without fulfilling a job application reporting requirement. 

“Don’t become an expert,” he said. “Just apply for the benefits and let us determine if you’re eligible.”

And despite Ridd’s experience, Burt is urging people to apply online. He said it’s still the fastest way to file a claim and it frees up his staff to process applications. 

“Not everybody needs to call,” he said. “If individuals apply online and fill it out completely, we will get in contact with them if we need information.”

And not everyone is having a hard time applying for unemployment. Yuwen Huo was laid off by the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel last Thursday, where she worked in the sales department. She said the process took less than an hour Friday when she applied for unemployment online. 

“It was not too lengthy, so it was good,” she said, adding that the website allowed her to upload a resume that will be visible to employers. 

The Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel employed a number of immigrants with limited English proficiency, Huo said, and offered help with unemployment claims to those who needed it. 

“HR helped them conquer the language barrier,” she said, “So I really am not upset or anything, and I want to send some positive notes out there.” 

Those applying for unemployment online need to have their social security number, their last pay stub, a driver’s license or other ID and will need to be able to provide theiremploymenthistory dating back to October 2018, according to Burt. He said that those submitting claims right now who qualify can expect to receive compensation at around 50% of their previous pay and their first check should arrive within 14 to 21 days of applying. He added that applicants can set up direct deposit, so they won’t have to handle any mail or cash a check. 

Those who cannot apply online can fill out the application over the phone, Burt said, but they may have to wait on hold for a long time.

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County. Follow Kate on Twitter @kgroetzi

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