S.D. reemployment claims exceed prior highs

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s months-long surge of unemployment related to COVID-19 has meant record levels of requests and payments for reemployment assistance, the head of state government’s agency that handles the claims said Wednesday.

Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman told an advisory council her department has paid more than $84.4 million in state benefits since March 16. The high had been $63.6 million in 2009. “We were shocked at the time at that amount, and we have exceeded that in seven months,” Hultman said.

Another $206.8 million has been distributed in federal pandemic unemployment compensation (FPUC) of $600 per week. While the program officially ended in August, some of the payments continue to be made, as staff catches up on processing money owed to people.

The department also paid $15.1 million in federal pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) to those who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for state benefits and $2 million of federal pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (PEUC) for people whose state benefits have run out.

Altogether $308.3 million has been put back into the state and local economies, according to Hultman. She said that’s more than the past 10 years of benefits that had been paid. “We’re very proud of the effort,” she said. “How have we done this?  By grit and determination sometimes.”

From March 16 through October 3, first-time claims totaled 65,264. The weekly average of 2,250 was nearly 10 times the 232 average for 2019. Continued claims meanwhile averaged 14,432 weekly during the pandemic through October 3. Last year they averaged 1,742.

Job Service offices closed across South Dakota, allowing Hultman to shift those employees to handling reemployment claims. She said 16 of them were permanently reassigned to the reemployment division, and their old jobs will be filled by others.

Hultman said dealing with the pandemic helped identify technology enhancements that are needed, so the application process is simpler. “We hope to have that rolled out by the first of the year,” she said. 

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