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Key Insights: State Pandemic Unemployment Insurance Programs

Historic unemployment.
 

Record relief.
 

We looked at more than 40 reports from 16 states to see how they handled jobless benefits early in the pandemic.

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Map of the united states showing 16 states colored in blue. The remaining states are light grey. The blue states are the ones that have reports on pandemic-related unemployment benefits featured in this report. The 16 blue states are Washington, Oregon, and California, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Florida.

Jobless rate in April 2020 - the highest on record

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Line graph that shows the unemployment rate in the month of April for each year from 1948 to 2020. The line graph fluctuates, indicating different jobless rates through the years, but the line reaches a peak of 14.7 percent in April 2020.

The pandemic caused historic levels of unemployment. By April 2020, the unemployment rate hit 15% - the highest rate since data collection began in 1948.

The federal government responded by making $716 billion worth of unemployment benefits available to states. This caused a surge in applications for unemployment benefits.

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map of kansas

Kansas received 12.5 million phone calls to its State Workforce Agency customer service line in April 2020.

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Oklahoma state map

Oklahoma paid out ten times the amount it does in a typical year.

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Washington state map

Washington received more than 180,000 claims in one week in March, 2020. Claims typically peaked at 10,000 per week.

CALIFORNIA

 

960%

INCREASE

BETWEEN JANUARY

AND APRIL 2020

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Line chart showing the number of claims for unemployment benefits between January 2020 through December 2020 in California, showing the surge in claims between January 2020 and April 2020. California had a 960 percent increase in claims in during that time. The number of claims was 222,000 in January 2020 and 2,355,000 in April 2020.

KANSAS

 

1,092%

INCREASE

BETWEEN JANUARY

AND APRIL 2020

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Line chart showing the number of claims for unemployment benefits between January 2020 through December 2020 in the state of Kansas, showing the surge in claims between January 2020 and April 2020. Kansas had a 1,092 percent increase in claims during that time. The number of claims was 10,000 in January 2020 and 121,000 in April 2020.

LOUISIANA

 

3,536%

INCREASE

BETWEEN JANUARY

AND APRIL 2020

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Line chart showing the number of claims for unemployment benefits between January 2020 through December 2020 in the state of Louisiana, showing the surge in claims between January 2020 and April 2020. Louisiana had a 3,536 percent increase in claims during that time. The number of claims was 9,000 in January 2020 and 330,000 in April 2020.

OHIO

 

1,317%

INCREASE

BETWEEN JANUARY

AND APRIL 2020

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Line chart showing the number of claims for unemployment benefits between January 2020 through December 2020 in the state of Ohio, showing the surge in claims between January 2020 and April 2020. Ohio had a 1,317 percent increase in claims during that time. The number of claims was 35,000 in January 2020 and 499,000 in April 2020.

WASHINGTON

 

1,227%

INCREASE

BETWEEN JANUARY

AND APRIL 2020

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Line chart showing the number of claims for unemployment benefits between January 2020 through December 2020 in the state of Washington, showing the surge in claims between January 2020 and April 2020. Washington had a 1,227 percent increase in claims during that time. The number of claims was 36,000 in January 2020 and 476,000 in April 2020.

The surge overwhelmed State Workforce Agencies that processed the applications.

It took Ohio more than 70 days to process nearly half of its first payments – far longer than the federal government’s goal for states to issue payments within 14 days. The state eventually hired temporary staff to help speed up processing applications. 

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rows of calendar days displaying the difference between 70 days - which is how long it took Ohio to process nearly half its unemployment insurance claims - and 14 days, which was the government recommended amount of time to process claims.

A new federal unemployment insurance program let applicants self-certify eligibility for benefits – no proof of income or identity needed. 

The CARES Act created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to provide unemployment benefits to workers not typically eligible to receive benefits, such as self-employed workers and gig workers. For these types of workers, there is no third party or employer that can verify employment status.

Without the ability to verify eligibility, fraud was rampant. And the schemes varied. 

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Arizona state map

Arizona paid $1.6 billion in benefits to individuals that applied using a stolen identity. 

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California state map

California estimated it sent $800 million in benefits to 45,000 prisoners.

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small map of the united states

A single social security number was used in 29 states to get more than $220,000 in unemployment benefits.

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