COVID-19

State workers under pressure to keep up with soaring unemployment

Jack Stewart Apr 10, 2020
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An unemployment agency office is currently closed because of COVID-19 in Detroit, Michigan on March 26, 2020. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

State workers under pressure to keep up with soaring unemployment

Jack Stewart Apr 10, 2020
An unemployment agency office is currently closed because of COVID-19 in Detroit, Michigan on March 26, 2020. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Over the last three weeks, almost 17 million workers have filed for unemployment benefits. Businesses across the country have had to close their doors to customers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The incredible surge in unemployment claims is putting a huge amount of pressure on the public service workers processing them, according to their unions. 

“It’s strenuous, I mean, you feel like the days fly, but the mental stress when you’re home really hits at that time. It’s heavy,” said Helen Esposito, an unemployment claims processor in New York State.

She’s been in the job for almost 30 years and seen other unemployment spikes, like after 9/11, the Great Recession and Hurricane Sandy.

“If you put all of those situations together and times them by three — this is what we’re looking at,” Esposito said.

Unions that represent public employees say many can’t work from home and some are putting in long hours, including weekends. 

Thea Lee, president of the Economic Policy Institute, said the next federal relief package should provide more support to state and local governments.

“If we don’t do that, they will start cutting back, firing people, cutting hours, in the next couple of months,” Lee said. She added that having fewer public service employees doing things like processing unemployment claims, runs the risk of exacerbating the economic crisis for everyone.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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