Website glitches have hampered some trying to file claims.

One day after Mississippi’s unemployment office released a statement suggesting it intended to support workers affected by COVID-19, it published a FAQ clarifying that most eligibility requirements had not changed.

The statement Friday said that the agency was “modifying existing unemployment compensation rules to allow workers to file a claim for unemployment benefits who are affected” in specific ways by COVID-19.

This included folks diagnosed with COVID-19 and those who are caring for an immediate family member diagnosed with the virus. But the FAQ released Saturday suggests these folks would not actually be eligible to receive the benefit because “you are required to be able and available to work.”

Other impacted people — those laid off due to coronavirus-related business closures, quarantined by a doctor or fired for not coming to work due to the virus — may file a claim and “determination will be made concerning your eligibility,” it said, “on a case-by-case basis.”

Additionally, independent contractors, who were not eligible for unemployment benefits before, won’t be eligible even if they lose work due to the coronavirus. “Should there be any state or federal declarations that determines an independent Contractor or self-employed worker eligible resulting from a claim filed related to the COVID-19 virus, MDES is ready to apply any guidelines rendered in the declaration,” it said.

Though agency director Jackie Turner said Friday the department was moving employees to the call center to deal with the uptick of applicants, some clients Mississippi Today interviewed have had to wait on hold for hours as the office struggles to handle the increased workload. The agency has encouraged people to file online, but website glitches have prevented people from successfully filing claims, Mississippi Today witnessed Saturday.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced Saturday Mississippi will waive work search requirements for folks receiving unemployment until June 27. Normally, a person must file weekly certifications proving they looked for work in order to receive their next payment. The state will also suspend the “waiting week” — which requires a person seeking unemployment to wait until the second week after they’re approved before they start receiving a check.

Folks applying for unemployment may do so at or by calling 1-888-844-3577

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Anna Wolfe is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who covers inequity and corruption in government safety net programs, nonprofit service providers and institutions affecting the marginalized. She began reporting for Mississippi Today in 2018, after she approached the editor with the idea of starting a poverty beat, the first of its kind in the state. Wolfe has received national recognition for her years-long coverage of Mississippi’s welfare program, in which she exposed new details about how officials funneled tens of millions of federal public assistance funds away from needy families and instead to their friends, families and the pet projects of famous athletes. Since joining Mississippi Today, she has received several national honors including the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting, the Livingston Award, two Goldsmith Prizes for Investigative Reporting, the Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, the Sacred Cat Award, the Nellie Bly Award, the John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award, the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, the Sidney Award, the National Press Foundation’s Poverty and Inequality Award and others. Previously, Wolfe worked for three years at Clarion Ledger, Mississippi’s statewide newspaper, where she covered city hall, health care, and wrote stories about hunger and medical billing, earning the Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Journalism two years in a row. Born and raised on the Puget Sound in Washington State, Wolfe moved to Mississippi in 2012 to attend Mississippi State University, where she currently serves on the Digital Journalism Advisory Board. She has lived in Jackson, Mississippi since graduating in 2014.