- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2020

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Another 31,000 Idaho residents filed for unemployment benefits last week as the state economy shed thousands of jobs for the third consecutive week, officials said Thursday.

Nearly 78,000 people have filed claims since mid-March, the Idaho Department of Labor said.

“Given the prognosis that we’re not going to return to normal anytime soon, we’re looking at dealing with this incredible influx of claims for a while,” said the agency’s director, Jani Revier.

Republican Gov. Brad Little issued an emergency declaration on March 13 because of the coronavirus and followed with a statewide stay-at-home order on March 25.

The labor department said workers of all ages are being affected in the latest round of layoffs, with hard-hit sectors including accommodations, food services, health care and construction. Those categories accounted for 57% of the layoffs for the week from March 29 to Saturday.

Payouts for unemployment insurance claims for the week ending March 28 totaled $5.6 million and went to more than 19,000 people, the department said.

The best way to file a claim is online, as high call volume is leading to long wait times with some callers unable to get through, Revier said. The agency is hiring and training additional workers, she said.

But the agency also said Thursday that scammers are targeting the unemployed with fake websites to steal personal information or charge fees for filing for unemployment benefits. Those signing up online should make sure they are on a labor.idaho.gov web page.

The latest numbers are a big contrast compared with the first two and a half months of the year when unemployment filings averaged 146 a day and the unemployment rate hovered around 3%. The agency didn’t include an unemployment rate in its latest information because numbers are changing so quickly.

Little on Tuesday ordered the creation of a committee to oversee Idaho’s $1.25 billion share of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic rescue package approved by Congress last month. The state labor department said it has been working with the federal government to put in place provisions for using money from the package.

Those provisions include an additional 13 weeks of benefits for those who exhaust regular unemployment benefits, an additional $600 a week to go with unemployment insurance, and pandemic employment assistance for workers in the gig economy, Revier said.

About 55% of businesses in Idaho are considered essential under Little’s stay-at-home order, and many of those are hiring, including grocery stores and drug stores, officials said.

Idaho has more than 1,230 virus cases and 18 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The coronavirus is mainly spread through coughs and sneezes. For most people, it causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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