Extra Benefits Ending With Montana’s Unemployment Rising

The department said the Federal Emergency Management Agency ended funding for the Lost Wages Assistance program

By Associated Press

HELENA — The extra $400 in weekly unemployment insurance payments is no longer available in Montana, the Department of Labor and Industry said Thursday, even as new unemployment claims are on the rise.

The department said the Federal Emergency Management Agency ended funding for the Lost Wages Assistance program on Sept. 5.

The program was established by President Donald Trump after Congress did not reauthorize the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provided an extra $600 weekly unemployment benefit through late July.

FEMA funded $300 of the new weekly payment, while Montana contributed another $100 from its coronavirus relief funds. The department estimated that the Lost Wages Assistance payments in Montana will total about $59 million for six weeks of payments that began in the last week of July.

Despite coronavirus relief funds aimed at buoying the economy, the number of new applications for unemployment assistance in Montana rose for the fourth consecutive week, according to new figures released Thursday by the U.S. Employment and Training Administration.

Over 2,700 Montana residents filed for unemployment during the week ending Sept. 5, an increase of nearly 9% from the previous week.

Nearly six months have passed since Gov. Steve Bullock announced a state of emergency in Montana to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and the pandemic shows no signs of abating.

Bullock was expected to hold a press conference Thursday to provide an update on use of coronavirus relief funds.

Health officials reported 196 new confirmed coronavirus cases statewide Thursday, bringing the number of confirmed cases to over 8,600.

The number of infections in Montana is thought to be far higher because not everyone has been tested and people can be infected with the virus without having symptoms.

The number of new cases confirmed each week has remained steady but high over the last month, pushing hospital capacity in some parts of the state to its limit.

St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, which is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, brought on more than 20 volunteer nurses, respiratory therapists and technicians from three sister hospitals in Colorado to relieve staff and ensure the hospital continues operating smoothly, The Billings Gazette reported.

Yellowstone County, home to Billings, currently accounts for 40% of Montana’s known cases, despite having about 15% of the state’s population.

The virus has killed at least 123 people in Montana, including 12 in the past seven days. In cases of deaths where race is known, more than a third are Native Americans, who make up about 7% of Montana’s population, according to a state epidemiological report analyzing case numbers and deaths through Sept. 4.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. 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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