MISSOULA — The Montana Department of Labor unemployment phone lines have been lighting up with people trying to apply for unemployment benefits due to being laid off because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Officials say while this has caused some headaches they have implemented emergency procedures that should help them through this crisis.
After Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency and ordered several types of businesses across the state to close in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, those laid off employees will be turning to unemployment until they can get back to work.
"The rules allow a claimant directed by their employer to leave work or not to report to work due to COVID-19 to qualify as being temporarily laid off and eligible for benefits; claimants are not eligible for benefits if they could work from home but choose not to," said Brenda Nordlund , the acting commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor & Industry.
Unemployment benefits in Montana usually take around 14 days to kick in, but due to the emergency declaration, unemployment offices can now get people hooked up with their benefits within half the time.
"Normally it would be about 14 days. We can cut that short at least seven because we have eliminated the waiting week with the emergency rules," Nordlund added about the new time frame to receive benefits
So what should newcomers expect from the application process?
"They should expect to answer a question at the very beginning or towards the very beginning of the claim module online filling process and they will specifically be asked if this is claim the result of COVID-19 directly or indirectly," Nordlund said. "If you answer yes we will treat it as a COVID-19 claim and as long as you are otherwise eligible for UI then the COVID-19 will put you into the emergency rule category and we will move forward accordingly."
Department of Labor officials know how important these benefits are to Montanans and are thankful for the staff being able to adjust so quickly.
"The key for us us, I’m just going to be really candid, we were able to propose an emergency rule and get it approved through the federal agency and also the governor's office and our outstanding information technology team was able to make these changes nearly on the fly," Nordlund added.
While the department understands how important unemployment payments are to the people receiving them, officials also noted how important those payments are to keeping Montana's economy afloat.
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