During the coronavirus pandemic crisis, The La Porte County Herald-Argus has dropped the paywall for virus-related stories. If you appreciate local journalism, please help us continue to keep La Porte County informed by considering a subscription to the La Porte County Herald-Argus. Learn more here.INDIANAPOLIS — With the COVID-19 outbreak costing a growing number of Hoosiers their jobs – including hundreds in La Porte County – the Indiana Department of Workforce Development is calling “all-hands-on-deck” to help get the unemployed the benefits they need to get through the sudden economic downturn.

In response to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive order last week granting the agency additional leeway in handling unemployment claims due to the ongoing public health crisis, the DWD has issued new guidance for residents who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The department has expanded its unemployment benefit eligibility to include the following:

Workers whose employers have laid them off due to the COVID-19 outbreak. To receive benefits, employees must have earned enough wages to set up a claim, must stay in contact with their employer and must be available to work when called back by their employer.

Employees whose employer or doctor has directed them to quarantine due to the coronavirus. Claimants must have earned enough wages to file, and must not be receiving sick pay or paid leave from their employer.

Parents who have stopped working to take care of their children while their school or daycare is closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Claimants must have earned enough wages to file, and must not be receiving sick pay or paid leave from their employer.

Employees who have had their hours cut. Part-time workers will earn a reduced amount of benefits and must report weekly the amount of money they received at work.

Employees who have chosen to self-quarantine with no directive from their employer or a medical professional to do so will generally be ineligible for benefits. The DWD still encourages these individuals to file a claim for evaluation, however.

With the DWD’s WorkOne Centers closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the agency is asking residents to file unemployment claims online, at in.gov/dwd/2362.htm. Those with questions are asked to call the benefit call center at (800) 891-6499, though, due to the extremely high call volume, waits will be longer than usual.

The DWD has seen a massive surge in unemployment claims over the past two weeks, as restaurants, bars, event centers and other hospitality and service businesses have closed or severely reduced operations to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“For the week ending March 21, there were 53,608 claims filed, compared with just 2,312 the previous week, which illustrates just how large the increase in claims has been in such a short period of time,” said DWD spokesman Scott Olson via email Thursday.

“To help process the surge of unemployment claims, DWD has pulled staff members from various departments to offer assistance; an all-hands-on-deck approach, if you will.”

In La Porte County, 977 residents filed new claims last week – up from just 61 the previous week.

To further help unemployed Hoosiers during this unprecedented public health and economic emergency, DWD Commissioner Fred Payne announced during a press conference Thursday that Gov. Holcomb has waived the one week between when applicants file their claim and when they can begin receiving benefits. Claimants should still expect to wait 21 days before they receive their first payment, however, he said.

The agency is also ready to out the expanded unemployment coverage called for in the proposed $2 trillion federal stimulus bill, which the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on this Friday.

The legislation, if passed, will allow for independent contractors, self-employed individuals, and those with limited work experience to apply for benefits. The bill would also require states to grant an additional 13 weeks of benefits to claimants, on top of the 26 weeks of coverage they are currently allowed to receive.

For additional information on eligibility requirements and how to file a claim, residents can read the DWD’s updated unemployment FAQ at in.gov/dwd/files/Indiana_Unemployment _FAQ.pdf.

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