While state office buildings may be closed to the public temporarily amid theCOVID-19 outbreak, the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ (DOLIR) Division of Employment Security (DES) continues to process unemployment claims. All the DES staff are performing essential functions to support Missouri’s workers and employers in response to this public health crisis.
For the week ending March 21, 2020, the DES processed 42,207 individual initial claims, more than ten times the 3,976 initial claims processed during the week ending March 14, 2020. For perspective, in just one week, the DES processed nearly a quarter of the total number of individual claims it processed in the entirety of 2019.
Because of high call volumes, the DES encourages individuals to file their claims online at uinteract.labor.mo.gov. UInteract, Missouri’s unemployment system, is mobile-friendly and available 24/7 to meet consumer needs. Filing a claim takes on average about ten minutes, whether an individual files online or is assisted by a claims specialist.
“While some internet providers or local tech environments may be having issues with capacity, the DES currently reports no issues to date with UInteract and its capacity to handle claims,” said the DES Director Chris Slinkard. “In fact, the system is being monitored 24/7 for potential issues, and, as a preventative measure, UInteract’s capacity has been expanded to handle the increased workload.”
While the DES encourages unemployed workers to file their claims online as soon as they become unemployed, and not wait a week to file, the DES still provides telephone helpline assistance. As with other seasons of high call volume, the DES is utilizing personnel from all areas to assist in handling the call volume.
About 90 percent of Missouri’s unemployment claims are currently being filed online, and there are videos available to help first-time filers. The videos can be found at labor.mo.gov/coronavirus, which also includes frequently asked questions about unemployment for both employers and workers. The DES encourages individuals and businesses to check the website often for updated information as conditions change.
Last week, the DES also relaxed some requirements, including eliminating the need to search for work for those who file a coronavirus-related unemployment claim and is currently working on temporarily waiving the waiting week requirement for coronavirus-related claims. Additionally, the DES has announced that it will temporarily waive charges for coronavirus-related claims to the respective employer’s experience rating accounts. The DES continues to review guidance received from the US Department of Labor for additional changes.
It is important to remember that employers pay into the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund from which benefits are provided to eligible workers. Workers do not pay anything into the unemployment insurance trust fund. It is wholly funded by employers.
“Ninety-six percent of the private businesses in Missouri are small businesses employing 49 employees or less and many have been hit in the past year by flooding or tornados. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, many have temporarily closed, so small businesses, in particular, deserve a break,” said Slinkard. “Therefore we are extending the payment deadline for first quarter employers’ taxes to June 1.” Employer first quarter contribution and wage reports will still be due April 30, 2020.
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