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Some Laid-Off Workers Are Being Turned Away as Unemployment Claims Surge

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  • In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, unemployment claims have surged by 33% in just one week, with 281,000 people applying for benefits last week alone.
  • Economists estimate that the number will increase to one million by the end of the month.
  • The massive surge in applications has resulted in unemployment websites crashing and hours-long wait times over the phone.
  • Because of restrictive criteria in several states, many of those impacted are now learning that they aren’t eligible to receive benefits.

Coronavirus Leads to Mass Layoffs

The United States Labor Department reported Thursday that 281,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a massive surge of 33% from the previous week.

Economists expect the situation to get much worse, predicting more than a million people are on track to lose their jobs by the end of the month.

But given current events, that number is not necessarily surprising. Stocks have been plummeting and a lot of the economy is grinding to a standstill. On top of that, more and more businesses have closed their doors since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. Some companies, like Marriott, are furloughing tens of thousands of employees. 

All of that has put a massive strain on unemployment offices, with many people being put on hold for hours at a time. On Monday alone, so many people were trying to file for unemployment benefits in states like New York, Oregon, and New Jersey that their websites crashed.

While those technical issues are partly because of how fast unemployment is rising, they’re also a result of many state offices not expecting such a rapid surge in unemployment claims. Reportedly, many have low levels of staffing.

In fact, the surge in unemployment has been so fast that it’s on pace to do in a number of weeks what it took the 2008 Recession months to do.

Some People Are Told They Don’t Qualify for Unemployment

Along with hours-long wait times and trying to navigate broken websites, many people have recounted horror stories after learning they don’t qualify for benefits in their state.

In an interview with The Washington Post, 30-year-old Army vet Sean McGuire said he lost his job as a dishwasher in Portland because of the coronavirus. 

“I was on hold with the Oregon Department of Labor for over an hour,” he told The Post. “They were inundated. When I finally spoke to a person, they told me I don’t qualify.”

The reason McGuire was unable to draw benefits is because he had moved to Oregon from New York at the beginning of the year. Notably, that meant he hadn’t worked in Oregon long enough to qualify. 

After that, he tried applying online in New York. He then said the website crashed, so he called the unemployment office. After another long wait, he was again told he didn’t qualify, this time because he had quit his job in New York. 

As unfortunate and as scary as a situation like that is for a person, it’s becoming an increasingly common story. Gig workers, tipped workers, and full-time students also tend to not qualify for benefits in many states.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 16 states have such restrictive criteria that less than 20% of laid-off workers even qualify for unemployment benefits.

Say, however, that you do qualify for unemployment in your state. One, you could be in a state where you have to sit on a week-long waiting list before you can see any payment. Or two, you might find that the average weekly payment of $385 just isn’t enough. 

“Workers expect unemployment insurance to be there for them in a downturn,” labor economist Martha Gimbel told The Post. “A bunch of workers are about to find out that it’s not. This is a real-life nightmare. Every hole we allowed to grow in our social safety net is hitting us all at once.”

What Are Governments Doing to Fix the Problem?

So far, several states—including Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New York—have all temporarily scrapped their “waiting week” provisions. 

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would provide sick pay and free testing. Notably, that bill also includes $2 billion to state unemployment insurance programs. The bill, which previously received House approval, was signed into law by President Donald Trump yesterday.

That bill is expected to provide some relief, but it’s not a cure-all. Even before the coronavirus pandemic started, 23 states were already running low on their unemployment trust funds. 

That’s part of the reason why Trump Administration and a lot of other lawmakers are pushing for Congress to pass a bill that would send immediate checks to people. The Trump plan would provide $1 trillion in support, with $500 billion of that being split being two direct payments.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (Fox Business) (NPR)

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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