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Unemployment claims skyrocket in Kansas, Missouri

Health care sector among hardest hit
Jobs report: Unemployment reaches lowest point in 50 years
Posted at 5:45 PM, Apr 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 18:49:29-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — New numbers show both Kansas and Missouri unemployment insurance claims are skyrocketing as the economic impact of COVID-19 spreads through communities.

Kansans are being asked to use the state labor department's website to file new claims, and it’s getting a lot of traffic.

According to state records, more than 50,000 new applications were filed last week.

Johnson, Wyandotte and Douglas counties in the Kansas City metro are among the leaders in new applications.

Those 50,000 plus applications are roughly 35 times more applications than the 1,400 Kansas had one year ago.

"We're working extra hours, making sure, getting all our appointments, questions answered. We have added staff each week," said Delia Garcia, secretary for the Kansas Department of Labor.

The 50,000 new applications is actually down about 5,000 from the previous week, but it's unclear if that is because there were less claims or the system was overwhelmed.

On a recent Monday alone, Garcia said, there were 877,000 attempted phone calls to the Department of Labor.

She said the state is reserving the department's phone lines for people who don't have internet access, non-English speakers and Kansans who have moved to the state in the past year and a half.

"I understand everyone is frustrated,” Garcia said, “just like we're frustrated to be able to answer you all. But the website has the most information.”

With a more than 40-year-old computer system, there have been periodic issues with the site, and techs have been working to keep it functioning properly.

As for the Kansans who filed claims in the past week, food service, manufacturing and retail lead the way, while health care and social assistance workers come in fourth at 13.9 percent of new claims.

The Missouri Department of Labor offices in Kansas City's West Bottoms area is closed to the public. A security guard named Danny said he has had to turn away about 20 people in the past few days who came to the office to file claims.

Missourians also are filing unemployment claims online.

Danny said last week, he worked at the state's Independence office and he had to turn away 200 to 300 people.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said that COVID-19 has had a “serious compact” on public health and the economy.

"Business operations have been limited and many people have lost their jobs," Parson said.

Unemployment claims have exponentially grown in Missouri, just in recent weeks. According to state records, about 2,700 people filed claims the week of Feb. 29.

A month later, the week of March 28, more than 38 times that number were filed, or more than 104,000 claims.

Parson also said on Tuesday that additional money from the federal government for unemployment claims could be available as soon as next week.

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