HELENA — Just over 15,300 Montanans filed new unemployment claims last week, the first week that self-employed, contract and gig workers could file for payments under the coronavirus relief program, officials said Thursday..
By comparison, about 10,500 people filed claims in the week ending April 18.
Over the past six weeks, from March 15 through April 25, more than 96,200 people have filed new unemployment claims, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Montana’s unemployment rate has reached 13.9% according to the Tax Foundation.
Montana’s Department of Labor and Industry asked employers to sign up for accounts that would allow them to more quickly report layoffs and to receive and respond to requests for information about claims. The change is expected to help the agency process claims more quickly and identify fraudulent claims.
“With the current level of (unemployment insurance) claims and the phased reopening of Montana’s economy, we are utilizing every tool available to streamline claim processing while ensuring program integrity,” acting Commissioner Brenda Nordlund said.
People found to have committed unemployment insurance fraud are subject to penalties, including repaying 150% of the wrongly received money and/or criminal prosecution, the agency said.
Because current payments include $600 in federal money, people convicted of making a fraudulent claim could face federal prosecution.
The labor department paid out $45.5 million last week in unemployment benefits, including $30.6 million in federal pandemic unemployment compensation.
Montana’s health department reported two new cases of COVID-19 from 386 tests run on Wednesday, including the first case in Fergus County. The state has reported at least 453 cases, with five people still hospitalized. Sixteen people have died.
Nine active cases are in Toole County, where 29 cases were reported and six people have died. Yellowstone County has eight active cases.
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 illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.
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