Coronavirus: Clark, Champaign see massive jump in jobless claims

With retail stores and restaurants closing due to the coronavirus, the unemployment rate in Clark and Champaign Counties as gone up. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
With retail stores and restaurants closing due to the coronavirus, the unemployment rate in Clark and Champaign Counties as gone up. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, an unprecedented move, as the country grapples with the ongoing COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, pandemic.

In Ohio, those claims went from 187,789 to a record high of 272,117 during the last two weeks of March, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Ohio has seen a total of 468,414 claims during the last two weeks of March. That number has already surpassed the total number of claims filed in the state last year, which was 364,603, according to ODJFS.

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However, the latest data regarding unemployment claims per county is for the week ending on March 21.

In Champaign County, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits during that week was 404. That was an increase of 1,657% compared to the previous week, which saw 23 unemployment compensation claims being filed, according to an analysis released Thursday morning by Policy Matters Ohio.

In Clark County, the number of claims filed during the week ending on March 21 jumped by 2,746% when compared to the week before it. The number of filings during those two weeks went from 70 to 1,992.

“The hope is that when things return to normal, those impacted will be able to return to their jobs. However, we have to wait and see what happens,” said Alex Dietz, the economic development coordinator for Clark County.

Those who have lost work due to the coronavirus pandemic are instructed to apply for unemployment benefits online at unemployment.ohio.gov or by calling 1-877-644-6562. Those claims cannot be processed or filed at the ODJFS office in Clark County.

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Due to the unprecedented number of people filing for those claims, state officials said they have reassigned more than 300 ODJFS employees to assist with the call volume. Operating hours have been extended at the call center designed to help Ohioans apply for benefits.

Those seeking assistance can call between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the weekdays; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays.

There has also been an increase in claims for food stamps as well as medical assistance benefits at the agency’s Clark County office, according to its director in the county Virginia Martycz.

She said those who are applying for those types of benefits can do so online at www.clarkdjfs.org or they can pick up a form as well as drop it off outside of the agency's office at 1345 Lagonda Ave between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

The number of jobless claims nationwide last week more than doubled compared to the prior week, which was already unprecedented and record-setting.

Surging layoffs across the county have led many economists to envision as many as 20 million lost jobs by the end of April, according to the Associated Press. The employment rate could also spike to as high as 15% during this month, surpassing the previous record of 10.8% reported in 1982, the news organization added.

Ohio recently had the second largest increase in claims in the country, with Preble, Greene and Miami counties seeing some of the largest increases in the state.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a huge number of people to be temporarily laid off, as some businesses have shuttered their doors, manufacturers postpone production and companies make changes to their daily operations in order to comply with national and state guidelines.

Congress is sending Americans direct stimulus payments and also beefed up the unemployment compensation program with enhanced benefits.

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However, state officials predict that coronavirus cases could peak sometime between mid-April and mid-May, and many businesses are unlikely to reopen anytime soon. In addition, Gov. Mike DeWine announced on Thursday that he would extend Ohio’s stay-at-home order, originally slated to end next week, to May 1.

During that time, only businesses classified as essential are to stay open.

In Clark County, companies such as Navistar and Topre America have either scaled back significantly or stopped production at their facilities in area.

Some hourly personnel at McGregor Metalworking Companies in Springfield have also been temporarily laid off.

In addition, many retailers in the area that remain open during this time have tweaked their operations, cut back hours or temporary reduced staff in some cases, according to Dietz.

Mercy Health said Thursday it has furloughed approximately 700 support service associates who are not being utilized for coronavirus efforts and that is expected to last for the next 30 to 90 days. Those employees can use PTO hours until that time is depleted, according to a statement from the hospital network.

The Ohio Valley Surgical Hospital in Springfield announced last month that 300 employees would be temporarily furloughed as it suspended a majority of its patient services after DeWine called on hospitals across the state to postpone elective procedures.