South Dakota’s newly unemployed won’t need to look for work during COVID-19, Hultman says

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Unemployment

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Workers applying for unemployment benefits in South Dakota won’t have to seek work while the governor’s declaration of a coronavirus COVID-19 emergency is in effect, state Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman said Saturday.

The waiver applies to those who filed the week of March 21 and going forward, until the emergency order ends, according to Hultman.

Her decision, made with the approval of Governor Kristi Noem, reflects the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that people stay at least six feet apart from one another during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“This change applies to everyone filing for unemployment compensation,” Hultman said in a statement distributed by her office. “While many job search efforts are conducted online, waiving the requirement to search for work is in line with the social distancing practices needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 and potential exposure to the disease.”

In a KELOLAND News interview earlier, the secretary said her department had seen “a dramatic increase” in activity recently at the Unemployment Insurance Call Center because of layoffs related to COVID-19.

Deputy Secretary Dawn Dovre told KELOLAND News on Saturday adjustments are under way for the higher traffic.

“Under normal circumstances, the Unemployment Insurance Call Center operates with 11 staff. Since the significant influx of claims, we have added 16 more staff in this area to help take calls, reset passwords, and process online claims,” Dovre said.

92 phone lines are available and the center is adding 23.

“We will continually monitor the ever-changing COVID-19 situation to determine the appropriate level of staffing. Our Job Service field staff are also being trained to help answer questions. When those offices are opened to the public again, the priority will be to serve unemployment claimants,” Dovre said.

The governor directed that non-essential state government employees under her direction work remotely through Saturday, March 28. That includes Job Service local offices.

“Many of the claimants we are seeing are first-time users of the system and unfamiliar with the process. We’re working hard to ensure they understand the requirements and to help them navigate the system,” Dovre said.

South Dakota appeared to have the fewest initial claims among the 50 states in the first part of March, with 185 for the week of March 7 and 169 for the week of March 14, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Dovre said South Dakota claimants have been filing only by phone or internet since 2000. “However, when our Job Service offices are open to the public again, our priority will be assisting unemployment claimants to the greatest extent possible,” she said.

The department issued a news release about the surge. It included these tips for workers:

  • To view possible eligibility scenarios, visit https://dlr.sd.gov/ra/covid_19_ra_eligibility.aspx.
  • To file an unemployment claim, visit raclaims.sd.gov or call 605-626-3179 or 605-626-2452.
  • The current phone wait time is approximately one hour, so online filing is encouraged. 
  • You will need your Social Security number, driver’s license or State ID, and 18 months of work history.
  • If you cannot get your claim filed in the first week, do not stress. Claims can be back dated.
  • Unemployment benefits are a partial wage replacement. The average benefit is approximately half of your weekly wage, capped at a maximum of $414 per week.
  • The quickest way to receive benefit payments is by direct deposit. The debit card option will add a few days for processing and mailing.
  • As of now, a COVID-19 related layoff lasting less than 10 weeks does not require the person to be able, available, and actively looking for work. 
  • The non-paid waiting week, typically the first week of compensable benefits, is still in effect.
  • People who are being paid to work from home or those receiving paid sick or vacation leave are NOT eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.
  • General questions can be directed to the Customer Service Center at 605-626-2452.

“We understand this is the first-time many people have had to file for unemployment, and it’s unfamiliar territory,” Secretary Hultman said in a statement. “Our team is here to help you navigate the process.”

The department issued these tips for businesses:

The Legislature changed the name for the program from Unemployment Insurance to Reemployment Assistance in 2019. It provides temporary financial assistance for people who have lost their job through no fault of their own.

Hultman said workers who become unemployed because their employer needs to temporarily shut down or isolate workers because of COVID-19 might be eligible to receive benefits.

She said many variables can affect a worker’s eligibility and an employer’s liability for benefits. The department examines each case on an individual basis and makes determinations in accordance with state and federal laws, according to Hultman.

Waiving the work requirement during the coronavirus emergency will accommodate workers whose employment is temporarily affected by COVID-19, she said, including those who are in an unpaid status or whose hours are reduced due to a shutdown or quarantine. 

Hultman encouraged job seekers to search sdjobs.org for work because many employers are looking for help.

To file a weekly request for payment, she said people can visit raclaims.sd.gov or call 605-626-3212. She said the online process can be faster, is available around the clock seven days a week and there isn’t a waiting time.

She said the application will ask: “Did you make contacts for employment as instructed?” She said claimants should select, “no” and write “not required” in the comment box.

The department collects funds through a tax on many employers. Benefits are usually about half of what the worker was receiving on the job, with a cap on the maximum. While the work requirement is waived, the policy of a non-paid waiting week, typically the first week of compensable benefits, remains in effect.

“We will continue to look at ways to streamline the process of filing for and receiving unemployment insurance benefits as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve,” Hultman said in the statement.

View a list of scenario interpretations about eligibility. Many variables can affect a worker’s eligibility and an employer’s liability for benefits, she said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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