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The scary exponential bend of Utah’s job loss curve in recent weeks appeared to ease a little Thursday, but not by much.
Unemployment claims leapt for a fifth week in the pandemic, with 24,171 Utahns seeking jobless benefits, for what is now a total of at least 106,671 state residents reporting being thrown out of work since mid-March.
The same U.S. Department of Labor report Thursday reveals those idled Utah workers are among more than 22 million Americans who’ve now lost their jobs or been furloughed since the health crisis began.
That means roughly one in seven of all U.S. workers has sought emergency aid since the outbreak began hitting the country, stark evidence of its financial devastation.
One national expert described the trend as “unfathomable" and said it signaled that trillions in federal spending intended to shore up the nation’s economy “have not yet stopped the flow of people from payrolls to unemployment.”
Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank based in New York, called last week’s additional 5.2 million sidelined Americans seeking aid “a stark reminder that the economic damage from COVID-19 just keeps coming.”
Thousands of Utah business owners are pressing state officials for grant and other financial assistance to tide them over and keep their workers on staff until federal cash reaches them through U.S. Small Business loans and disaster aid.
State officials on Thursday said the “unprecedented” volume of weekly claims continued to lengthen processing times before applicants received help, a period now estimated at between 21 and 30 days.
Although still historically high, jobless claims in Utah for the week ending April 11 fell back some from the prior week, when a record 33,040 Utahns filed claims, many of them laid off abruptly from the state’s hospitality, retail and office sectors.
“It is promising to see that number trend a little bit down,” Utah’s Unemployment Insurance Director Kevin Burt said Thursday of the latest weekly claims. “It’s certainly going to help with some of our service levels.”
Claims last week came mostly from office, sales and food-services industries.
The surge in Utah and across the country has triggered billions of dollars in federal aid aimed at helping Americans cope with the pandemic.
But the latest news on unemployment comes as several Utah banking officials report that one of the main federal programs included in the $2.2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act — nearly $349 billion for struggling small business owners to continue paying employees — has essentially run out of cash.
The funds were reportedly gobbled up in the first 10 days after the stimulus package’s Paycheck Protection Program was launched, with Utah small businesses receiving a total of 12,914 loans worth more than $2.6 billion.
“We had hoped that Congress would act before the funds were exhausted," said Howard Headlee, director of the Utah Bankers Association, referring to a second round of money for that program, now being debated in Congress.
Jobless Utahns are already receiving cash from another part of the stimulus, in the form on a $600 stipend to be added weekly on top of state unemployment benefits.
The state Department of Workforce Services (DWS) said Thursday it paid out $6.4 million in stimulus money through that program last week, on top of $11.7 million in benefits drawn from the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
In a related move on Thursday, the Utah Senate, meeting in a special session focused on the outbreak, gave initial approval to a bill that would waive a one-week state waiting period before applicants can start receiving unemployment aid. That COVID-19-related waiver now moves to the House.
Utahns are also starting to receive their separate $1,200 federal stimulus payments through direct deposits, with mailed checks to some expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
DWS also said Thursday they can now accept jobless claims from thousands of previously ineligible self-employed and gig economy workers, under a federal program for pandemic unemployment assistance.
There’s more information on unemployment at jobs.utah.gov/covid19.
The state has also launched a new online eligibility tool to help Utahns who are out of work determine what jobless benefits they might qualify for, by entering their Social Security number.