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Unemployment filings skyrocket in Carroll County in sign of economic damage from coronavirus

Unemployment claims in Maryland saw a record-breaking surge in the latest data release this week, and Carroll County was not exempt from this latest indicator of the economic damage caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Carroll saw 2,685 claims for unemployment insurance in the week that ended March 28, more than double the previous week’s 1,158 claims, according to the state Department of Labor.

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For comparison, 31 people in Carroll filed unemployment insurance claims the first week of March.

Denise Rickell, manager at the Carroll County Business/Employment Resource Center, or BERC, said they have received some calls from locals asking for advice for how to get through the overwhelmed process to file.

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She said there isn’t much to say except acknowledging that the wait times are long and to “keep trying, keep trying.”

Many people applying for unemployment are expecting to return to their previous employer when businesses re-open, she said. Industries hiring right now are those deemed essential, such as delivery drivers and those working at grocery stores, home improvement stores and health care facilities. Gov. Larry Hogan has ordered all Maryland residents to stay at home, with limited exceptions for “essential” business, in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus, also known as the COVID-19 disease it causes.

BERC closed its in-person offices, but staff are returning phone calls and offering information through BERC’s website, carrollworks.com, and Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CCBERC.

“We’re furiously working to get a lot of resources set up online,” she said, including the Monday job club and finding ways to move workshops to video.

Working remotely is a challenge when the BERC team is used to working face-to-face, Rickell said, but she hopes it will make them more flexible and creative even after the threat of the coronavirus has passed.

Mike McMullin, president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, said it’s a crazy time in the business world, and “I don’t think anybody is surprised that unemployment numbers have jumped as high as they have."

The Chamber is working to post resources online for the business community at large. He also highlighted resources at the Small Business Development Center, whose webinars have been getting as many as 500 participants.

On April 1, the Department of Labor extended hours at Unemployment Insurance Claim Centers, which now are open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Overall, 84,230 Marylanders filed for unemployment either over the phone, online or by mail during the week ending March 28, up from 42,334 residents the week before. They were among more than 6.6 million Americans who filed jobless claims last week. That brings the total of unemployed Americans to about 10 million since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Tiffany Robinson, the state’s labor secretary, said Wednesday on a conference call with state lawmakers that the department typically processes about 2,000 claims per week.

Some filers have experienced delays and problems because of the overwhelming demand on the system.

With the increased number of filings, the department asked Marylanders to consider filing online, through mdunemployment.com. Early in the morning or late in the evening had faster speeds, they said, though the paperwork is available 24/7.

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The state Department of Labor is encouraging those who have lost their jobs to stagger when they call or go online to request assistance, with last names A through F filing on Mondays, last names G through N filing on Tuesdays and last names O through Z filing on Wednesdays, then any names on Thursday and Friday. Robinson said Marylanders will be helped whenever they call, but she hoped the voluntary system could help spread out the work.

Residents who typically work full time or part time are eligible for unemployment. Under state and federal legislation passed to address losses during the pandemic, benefits are now also available to some people who have not been formally laid off or work in “gig economy” jobs if they have lost work because of coronavirus-related closures or slumps in demand.

Robinson asked representatives to reassure their constituents that “benefits will be paid, back through the time they were separated from employment,” Robinson said. “Just because they can’t get through now, or they’re having trouble now, doesn’t mean that they’re not going to get their benefits.”

Baltimore County had the largest number of overall unemployment claims in Maryland, with 13,352 reported claims, according to the department. Worchester County, which is the home of summer tourist destination Ocean City, saw the most concentrated of claims by population, with 45 people per 1,000 unemployed.

The unemployment rate, which is reported on a monthly basis, could spike to as high as 15% nationally in March, above the previous record of 10.8% set during a deep recession in 1982.

A list of frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and Maryland’s Unemployment Insurance Benefits Administration is available at http://labor.maryland.gov/employment/uicovidfaqs.shtml.

Baltimore Sun reporters Scott Dance, Pamela Wood and Phil Davis, plus The Associated Press, contributed to this article.

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