The number of unemployment insurance benefit claims has surged again in North Carolina, rebounding from a three-day decline to reach the second-highest daily total Tuesday.

The N.C. Commerce Department reported Wednesday there were 26,972 claims filed Tuesday. The daily peak to date is 34,706 on March 20.

Since March 16, there have been 332,773 claims filed, with 87.24% of applicants citing the COVID-19 virus as the reason for their job loss, layoff from work, reduced wages or furlough.

By comparison, there were 3,533 claims for the week that ended March 14, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Commerce officials acknowledge the number of potential UI benefit applications is higher. The record volume of submissions to its online portal, as well as increased use of its call centers, is exceeding the state Division of Economic Security’s ability to respond in a timely fashion.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday the division has added another server to help handle online submissions, as well as contract for third-party call center assistance.

Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University, cautioned Tuesday that he does not believe the recent decline in daily claims will become a trend.

“I expect a larger wave since self-employed individuals and independent contractors are also now temporarily eligible for UI benefits, previously they were not,” Madjd-Sadjadi said.

“In addition, in April a lot of special leave granted by employers will start to run out.

“If the employers cannot quickly access government loans and grants, they will be forced into mass layoffs now that the majority of the economy has been shuttered or at least greatly curtailed due to the governor’s stay-at-home order,” Madjd-Sadjadi said.

The division is implementing the unemployment insurance benefits of the recently passed federal CARES Act as it receives guidance from the federal government about the $600 payments that would last up to 13 weeks.

The state expects those payments to begin about two weeks after that guidance is provided, likely by the end of this week.

Workers applying for state benefits must complete their weekly certifications in order to receive unemployment insurance payments. The weekly certification is a series of “yes or no” questions that helps determine eligibility.

The weekly certification must be completed through an individual’s online account at www.des.nc.gov.

After filing a claim, it will take about 14 days to receive first payment. Cooper said Tuesday the first benefit checks will go out this week.

The additional $600 in federal benefits will be for weeks ending April 4 through July 31.

State employment officials caution that if an individual “does not complete a weekly certification, they will not receive a payment for that week.”

In response to complaints about the online claim process bogging down at times, Cooper said another server has been added and a third-party contractor will open a call center.

The state’s jobless rate for February was 3.6%, the N.C. Commerce Department reported Friday.

Economists are projecting a range of 8% to 12% for the April rate, and that’s likely to be topped in the months to come.

The rate reached a 33-year peak of 10.9% in 2010 as the state and national economies began their slow recoveries from the Great Recession. The Triad peak was 11.5% in February 2009.

Economists forecast that as many as 2.5 million North Carolinians may be at high- or moderate-risk for a layoff or reductions in wages, tips and work hours, or for furloughs.

Of the 10 private-sector and government employment sectors, none is expected to be spared massive job losses, but the cuts will likely most acutely affect the lower-wage leisure, hospitality, manufacturing and retail categories.

rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

rcraver@wsjournal.com

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

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