HELENA — Another 10,500 Montana residents filed new unemployment claims last week, bringing the total over the past five weeks to nearly 81,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Montana’s self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers, who are not eligible for traditional unemployment, are now able to file for benefits under the federal coronavirus relief act through a new website at mtpua.mt.gov.
The state expects to start issuing those payments within the next 10 days, said Brenda Nordlund, commissioner of Montana’s Department of Labor and Industry. Those who are eligible may receive payments backdated to the week of March 15, when Montana’s social distancing and stay-at-home directives were put in place to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
The state’s unemployment rate on April 18 was 14.2% according to the Tax Foundation, compared to 3.5% in February.
Gov. Steve Bullock announced plans Wednesday for a gradual reopening of the state’s economy, with some retailers being allowed to reopen on Monday. Bars, restaurants and casinos can open starting on May 4, with social distancing requirements and an 11:30 p.m. closure time. Some businesses — such as theaters, bowling alleys, pools and gyms — will remain closed during the first phase of lifting restrictions. Bullock did not set a timeline for how long the first phase would last.
The state issued over $62 million in unemployment payments last week, including $48 million in federal unemployment benefits, the labor department said.
Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services reported three more positive tests for COVID-19 out of nearly 300 samples run on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total confirmed cases to 442. There have been 14 deaths and thirteen people remain hospitalized, the state said.
For most people, the coronavirus 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 life-threatening illness, including pneumonia, and death.
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