More than 110,000 unemployment insurance applications have been received by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (ADWS), and the number only looks to go up.
Unemployment claims have skyrocketed in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. The state had been processing approximately 1,000 claims a week – a number that jumped to 30,000 last week, according to Arkansas Department of Commerce Secretary Mike Preston.
“Understand that we went from processing a 1,000 claims a week to literally falling over a cliff and having to do 30,000 next week and by all indications, we’ll be at that same level this week. So trying to keep up with that volume is certainly putting a strain on our system and our people…,” Preston said on April 1.
Now, the number has increased to more than 110,000 claims. Preston expects the number of claims to rise to approximately 150,000 by the end of the week.
“As the governor alluded to, we’re a little over 110,000. We anticipate that number to continue to rise throughout the course of this week and have probably have somewhere around 150,000 by the weekend,” he said.
Despite the increased number of claims, Preston said that the number of calls related to claims has decreased. He attributed this to the increased ease of accessing the ADWS website. This was enabled by adding more capacity to the website, he said.
For the calls still being made, employees from across the Department of Commerce have been reassigned to handle calls and direct traffic related to unemployment. Approximately 80 employees from around the Department of Commerce and ADWS have been assigned to handle calls.
“We’ve repurposed and reassigned staff within the Department of Commerce to handle the additional call volume,” he said. “You have folks who normally would be doing economic development or insurance or finance, and they’re handling these calls because we’re all-hands-on-deck to try to get those answered.”
Individuals applying for unemployment insurance are encouraged to visit the online portal to limit the possibility of COVID-19 spread. While ADWS offices are continuing to accept unemployment claims at their offices, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has waived requirement to apply for unemployment in-person.
The first federal supplement checks have gone out to Arkansans, according to Preston. Under the CARES Act, many unemployed individuals will receive a $600 supplemental benefit.
Preston reminded applicants to update their employment status every week to ensure they continue receive their benefits.
“If you have already applied, you don’t have to reapply or go in. Those checks will come, and that will be added into in addition to what you are currently receiving,” he said. “I will remind those who are filing for the first time and never been through this, you do have to go recertify each week and check into to show that your status has not changed. Once you do that, that will release you in the system, and we’ll be able to process you again, including that $600.”