by Anna Wolfe, Mississippi Today
April 9, 2020
As it has nationally, the COVID-19 pandemic has set off a record-setting rush of Mississippians filing for unemployment, a benefit paid for through employer taxes.
In Mississippi, the maximum weekly benefit is $235, but the federal stimulus bills Congress passed in response to the virus increases that amount by $600 until August and encourages states to waive the program’s work search requirements and one-week waiting period. It also expanded eligibility through a program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to people who would not qualify for traditional unemployment. These include independent contractors and self-employed people sometimes called “1099 employees” as well as people who quit their jobs as a direct result of the pandemic.
These provisions, which ensure jobless workers can support their families through this health and economic crisis, make the program more enticing and easier to access.
However, Mississippi Department of Employment Security, which administers the benefits, has struggled to process the influx of claims, delaying applications for some workers, despite nearly tripling its call center staff. Updating the automated unemployment insurance system, for which the state uses a private vendor, has proved challenging and time-consuming.
The website continues to notify applicants who should qualify for the pandemic assistance that they are not eligible for benefits, but department officials promise they will eventually reach and redetermine eligibility for those people, hopefully by mid-April.
Mississippi Employment Security Director Jackie Turner said folks approved for unemployment should begin receiving the additional $600 as early as April 10.
By April 4, Mississippi appeared to have lost about as many workers — 84,000 who have applied for unemployment since Mar. 15 — as jobs state leaders have credited themselves with creating since the 2008 recession.
About 28,000 Mississippians were actually receiving the benefit by April 4, an increase of more than 230 percent from the 8,400 receiving unemployment on average in the weeks prior to Mar. 15.
To file an unemployment claim, the department encourages people to create an account and submit the claim electronically at mdes.ms.gov, or fill out a downloadable application and email it to UIClaims@mdes.ms.gov.
Individuals experiencing issues may email firstname.lastname@example.org with their concerns or call (888) 844-3577 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., though they may experience long wait times.
Applicants may also file their claim by phone or email with their local WIN Job Center, though the centers’ walk-in lobbies have closed.
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