COVID-19 and unemployment in Mississippi: Weekly updates

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Last updated May 28

As it has nationally, the COVID-19 pandemic has set off a record-setting rush of Mississippians filing for unemployment, a benefit paid for through employer taxes.

In Mississippi, the maximum weekly benefit is $235, but the federal stimulus bills Congress passed in response to the virus increases benefits by $600 until July 31 and encourages states to waive the program’s work search requirements and one-week waiting period. It also expanded eligibility through a program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to people who would not qualify for traditional unemployment. These include independent contractors and self-employed people sometimes called “1099 employees” as well as people who quit their jobs as a direct result of the pandemic.

These provisions, which ensure jobless workers can support their families through this health and economic crisis, make the program more enticing and easier to access.

However, Mississippi Department of Employment Security, which administers the benefits, has struggled to process the influx of claims, delaying applications for some workers, despite more than tripling its call center staff. Updating the automated unemployment insurance system, for which the state uses a private vendor, has proved challenging and time-consuming. The website continued to notify applicants who should qualify for the pandemic assistance that they were not eligible for benefits until April 21, at which point the system was updated. Department officials promise they will reach and redetermine eligibility for those people who already applied.

Mississippi Employment Security Director Jackie Turner said folks approved for unemployment should begin receiving the additional $600 as early as April 10. 

By April 4, Mississippi’s workforce appeared to have lost about as many people — 84,000 who have applied for unemployment since Mar. 15 — as jobs state leaders have credited themselves with creating since the 2008 recession. By May 23, that number rose to over 290,000.

The department recorded about 208,000 continued claims by May 2, an increase of about 2380 percent from the 8,400 filing weekly on average in the weeks prior to Mar. 15. By May 16, continued claims dropped to just under 200,000.

The department still hasn’t said how many of these claimants are actually receiving their funds.

To file an unemployment claim, the department encourages people to create an account and submit the claim electronically at mdes.ms.gov, or fill out a downloadable application and email it to [email protected]. Individuals experiencing issues may email [email protected] with their concerns or call (888) 844-3577 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., though they may experience long wait times. Applicants may also file their claim by phone or email with their local WIN Job Center, though the centers’ walk-in lobbies have closed. 

Mississippi Today will update the following charts with data U.S. Department of Labor publishes every Thursday. Send us your questions about unemployment by email to [email protected].