TOPEKA (AP) — The number of jobless workers in Kansas who filed initial unemployment claims last week was 12 times as high as it was the week before as measures to control the spread of the new coronavirus took their toll on the economy.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that Kansas had almost 23,700 initial claims for unemployment for the seven-day period ending Saturday. The department said the figure for the previous week was less than 1,800, making the increase 1,250%.
The state reported slightly higher numbers of claims for both weeks, but the effect was the same: Last week's number was 12 times as high as the previous week's figure.
It was by far the largest percentage jump in at least 20 years, according to the federal data. The previous high mark for the past two decades was 242% in June 2003.
More than 1.8 million of the state's 2.9 million residents are covered by local stay-at-home orders. Gov. Laura Kelly has banned public gatherings of more than 10 people, and restaurants in the state's most populous counties have closed their dining rooms to move only to curbside, drive-through and take-out service.
In Topeka, 36-year-old Amanda Derby was laid off last week from her job as a bartender and server at the Old Chicago restaurant. She filed an unemployment claim with the state but, despite a new Kansas law and federal guidelines waving the previously standard week wait, she hasn't received her first check.
Derby, the mother of a 7-year-old autistic son, told The Topeka Capital-Journal that she's concerned about bills for rent, student loans, her car, insurance, internet and utilities. She has plenty of food for now, thanks to a parting gift of perishables from her former employer, she said.
“Bills are piling up,” Derby said. “I literally have $20 right now.”
Kansas has seen its confirmed coronavirus cases nearly quadruple over the past week, to 168, according to the state health department, and there have been three COVID-19-related deaths since early March.
The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people but can cause a severe illness for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.
The state Department of Labor is encouraging people to file their claims online because its telephone claims center has seen calls spike. It reported receiving about 8,100 calls during the seven-day period ending Saturday — about 7,000 more calls than during the previous week.
But the state also reported receiving nearly 15,800 initial claims last week online, or 22 times as many as the 712 it received the week before.
Department of Labor spokeswoman Julie Menghini said the agency is in the process of making the changes needed to waive the traditional waiting week for unemployment benefits.
“We are dealing with an unprecedented number of claims and limited staff,” Menghini said, “so there are challenges for impacted workers in getting their claims filed at this time.”