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Unemployment claims “record-breaking”

Washington, Morgan, Monroe and Noble counties have a combined labor force of about 44,300 people.

Unemployment before the community spread of COVID-19 was reported between 7.3 and 12.3 percent in those counties of Ohio in January.

“Most people were anticipating a paycheck tomorrow,” Washington County Job and Family Services Director Flite Freimann said Thursday. “This paycheck now is either going to be half or nothing at all. So getting these unemployment dollars into their hands is huge right now.”

But due to the pandemic’s spread, state labor offices across the nation were directed by the U.S. Department of Labor to not provide the public with the daily unemployment data.

“We were instructed last week by the U.S. Department of Labor to embargo all daily unemployment claims data until after the national claims report is released,” said Bret Crow, director of communications for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Crow said Thursday’s available data is a week old and that county-specific data is unavailable.

“The data from these reports is monitored closely by policy makers and financial markets to determine appropriate actions in light of fast changing economic conditions,” the directive said. “As such, this data must remain embargoed until the national claims report is released the following Thursday at 8:30 (a.m. Eastern Standard Time.)”

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said Tuesday during the governor’s daily press conference that he was frustrated with the order and saw it going against a need for transparency, but said he would follow the request of the federal government.

That request continues by directing the state to speak in “generalities” about employment impacts.

“States may provide information using generalities to describe claim levels (very high, large increase),” the directive said. “States should not provide numeric values to the public prior to the release of the embargoed claims data. Once (the federal Employment and Training Administration) has released the data, states may share information for the given week at the level of granularity deemed appropriate within the confines of Federal and State confidentiality guidelines.”

With the hold on the release of public data, the state Thursday could only say that during the week ending March 14, 43 residents of Washington County filed new claims, while 401 residents continued unemployment claims.

In Noble County, 15 new claims were filed that same week, following the continuation of 128 claims; Morgan County saw 10 new claims added to the continuation of 229; and Monroe County saw 27 new claims added to the continuing 175.

Freimann said county-level statistics require more sifting to separate data.

“The numbers mean the number of residents of Washington County that have applied for benefits,” Freimann said. “So if you live in Washington County but serve at da Vinci’s (in Williamstown) you would have applied for unemployment in West Virginia, but we also want to track that number.”

The federal release of data Thursday notes that the initial increase in claims noted nationally during the week ending March 21 are due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nearly every state providing comments cited the COVID-19 virus impacts. States continued to cite services industries broadly, particularly accommodation and food services,” said the federal release. “Additional industries heavily cited for the increases included the health care and social assistance, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing industries.”

Crow said increases in claims doesn’t accurately describe how much the calls and claims have increased in Ohio.

“Record-breaking, historic and unprecedented are more accurate descriptions,” said Crow. “Right now we’re just trying to keep up with the claims. We realize our system is running slower than it should be and we’re asking for patience.”

Husted said Thursday the state reported 187,780 claims by March 21 to the federal department.

“To put this in perspective in all of 2019 we had 369,594,” he said.

In February, he said the state unemployment call center logged approximately 112,000 calls, but in the week ending March 21, the state logged 7 million calls on unemployment questions.

Freimann said in the last week more than 117 individuals visited the Gilman Avenue office in Marietta looking for aid.

“A lot of people are frustrated,” he added, blaming the former Ohio Gov. John Kasich administration for technology failures including with pin numbers. “Those were identified and talked about with the previous administration and nothing was done.”

Regardless of blame, Freimann, Crow, and Husted continued to encourage those losing employment to file through the state website.

“This is going to be a bad hiccup for everybody but hopefully only a hiccup,” said Freimann, noting the economic impact once health orders are rescinded may last for two or more weeks afterward. “It’s going to take weeks after for businesses to start coming back.”

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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