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Applications for jobless aid fall to still-high 1.48 million

 The Idaho Department of Labor catches up on a backlog of unemployment claims brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-home order. (Source: MGN
The Idaho Department of Labor catches up on a backlog of unemployment claims brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-home order. (Source: MGN (KMVT)
Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 10:26 AM EDT
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The number of laid-off workers who applied for unemployment benefits fell to 1.48 million last week, the 12th straight drop and a sign that layoffs are slowing but are still at a painfully high level.

The steady decline in claims suggests that the job market has begun to heal from the pandemic, which shuttered businesses and sent the unemployment rate up to 14.7% in April, its highest level since the Great Depression.

Yet the latest figure also coincides with a sudden resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the United States, especially in the South and West, that’s threatening to derail a nascent economic rebound.

In Michigan, the process of unemployment is still facing complications. On Wednesday, some Michigan lawmakers called for unemployment offices to open.

"We want to make sure that it's a safe place for the claimants that come in and for our staff, as well," said Gray.

"When you talk about safety, I understand and appreciate that, but when we hear don that Zoom call that that woman was facing an individual who was threatening suicide, that's not the first case we've heard. There are safety concerns in a wide variety of these issues," said Representative Julie Calley, (R), Portland.

"I really do feel like we need more local offices. At the end of the day, we can open local offices, but it's not that helpful if we have ten hour waits like they had in Kentucky," said Senator Curtis Hertel, (D), Lansing.

Legislators also pushed for an update on those accounts flagged for potential fraud. Gray says the agency has a team of 850 people dedicated to those cases. He says that's also impacting response time for other people.

"We had brought on all these staff, had them poised to get on the phones to help customers, and we had to divert them to this identity verification process," said Gray.

He did not know how many of those 340,000 cases were actually fraud, but said that 58,000 people reported fraud on their accounts.

The chair of the COVID-19 Pandemic committee, Representative Matt Hall, says the UIA is not communicating enough with lawmakers, the media and the people they're serving.

"I believe most people can accept and understand that things happened in Michigan which overwhelmed the system and that the system was not prepared for this kind of surge. What people are struggling to accept and understand is the lack of communication from the agency to get this right," said Rep. Hall.

Tuesday, Gray announced the agency's goal to have all unpaid claims filed before May 1 resolved by July 4.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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