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Utah has paid out $1.6 billion in unemployment benefits over 7 months

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The Utah Department of Workforce Services’ main administration building in Salt Lake City now bears the name of the late Gov. Olene S. Walker. The building was renamed during a ceremony celebrating the department’s 20th anniversary on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services’ main administration building in Salt Lake City.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of Utahns are still filing for jobless benefits as the effects of the coronavirus outbreak continue to impact the economy.

The state Department of Workforce Services Thursday reported the number of total new claims for unemployment benefits in the Beehive State registered at 3,993 for the week of Oct. 18 through Oct. 24 with a total of $12.5 million in benefits distributed. The agency also noted during that same week, there were 32,869 continued claims filed.

Additionally, the report stated the number of people who have not requested benefits for two consecutive weeks as of Oct. 17 declined slightly to register at 3,919 from the previous week’s total of 4,713.

“We continue to see a demand for the unemployment benefit during this pandemic and the staff have done an incredible job meeting that demand; paying out nearly $1.6 billion in benefits to eligible Utahns since March 2020,” said Unemployment Insurance Division director Kevin Burt.

“It is critical to remember that while the unemployment benefit has been a great support to those whose employment has been disrupted by this pandemic, the benefit is time limited and active job search becomes increasingly more important for long-term stability.”

Burt noted that in 2019, the average number of new claims the unemployment insurance division took was around 1,100 per week, but that was a very different economic climate than what is happening currently.

“(Last year) was one of the lowest claim volumes that we (saw) in history. And then, of course, this pandemic resulted in a significant disruption and we’ve seen the highest number of claims that we’ve taken in history,” he said during the division’s weekly news conference.

“We are expecting soon a seasonal increase,” Burt said. “There are individuals in certain industries that can work during certain climates, but then are unable to work during the winter seasons and have traditionally applied for unemployment insurance. So we are expecting an increase in claims as a result of that as this pandemic continues to be as disruptive as it has been.”

Since March 15, the Unemployment Insurance Division has accepted 329,187 applications and paid out $1.576 billion in benefits. For comparison, last year the division took in 63,000 applications for the entire year. He added that Utahns should note, however, that jobless benefits are limited to 39 weeks in total, so job seekers should focus their efforts on finding employment wherever it might be available.

“There certainly are limitations with the unemployment insurance program, and we want to make sure that we actively communicate those limitations, so that people can respond accordingly and act accordingly,” Burt said.

To that end, officials say individuals who may need help with rental housing can apply for assistance.

“We have funding from the (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) act for rent relief,” explained Department of Workforce Services assistant deputy director Nate McDonald. “If you are someone that is having a difficult time with paying your rent, this is a program that is available for you between now and the end of the year.

“To help assist with rent relief we encourage you to go to rentrelief.utah.gov and take advantage of this program that is available to help you with your rent for the remaining months of this year.”

The program is income-based, he added, but those who are struggling as a result of the pandemic are strongly encouraged to apply.

Meanwhile, DWS reported that Utah’s jobless rate climbed nearly 20% from August to September registering at 5.0% last month. The data showed that more people are finding themselves in the market for gainful employment, which is creating a very competitive environment for those trying to land a job.

McDonald said there are scores of employers looking to hire individuals across an array of industry sectors.

“We have information technology, finance and banking, construction, health manufacturing, life sciences and advanced manufacturing,” he said. “We’ve seen a great increase in finance and banking with over 340 jobs posted (at jobs.utah.gov). Our health industry has a lot of needs right now. There is a great need for certified nursing assistants and nurses and other tech assistance in the health and medical industry. We have nearly 1,000 (health care) jobs posted just in our hot jobs web portal.”

He said there has also been an increase in manufacturing and advanced manufacturing.

“We encourage you to go to our hot job portal where we have over 2,300 jobs, but if you go into our portal and you don’t find what you want, just go into our advanced search tool, clear it out and you’ll be able to find that there’s more than 30,000 jobs.”

“We know it is a competitive time, (but) we just encourage people to continue to look for work,” McDonald said. “Don’t give up, take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.”