Within three days of the state announcing the temporary closure of its bars and restaurants to all but carry-out business, more than 22,000 Indiana residents had filed for unemployment insurance benefits. And that figure more than doubled by the end of the week.

The coronavirus-fighting shutdown was announced March 16, the same day that the pandemic felled its first Hoosier and the state lowered its recommended limit for social gathering to 50 from 250.

“Things are moving fast, things are changing,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said at a March 19 news conference.

“On Monday, our unemployment rate was reported at 3.1%.... To put that in perspective, this exact week a year ago we had 3,100 Hoosiers file for unemployment insurance benefits,” he said.

“Over the course of the last three days, the same week a year later, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we’ve had 22,583 Hoosiers file.”

By the time data was available for a full comparable week of Indiana unemployment filings, Holcomb said in a March 23 news conference the total for the entire business week ended March 20 came to 54,000.

Indiana Department of Workforce Development data showed residents of Allen County filed 3,561 unemployment insurance claims for the week, about 38 times the 94 claims filed for the county a year earlier, or up about 3,688%.

Northeast Indiana Works reported the week’s combined unemployment insurance filings for the 11 counties of northeast Indiana with the exception of Kosciusko County and the addition of Grant County came to about 6,100 across all industries, which was up close to 4,000% from a year earlier.

“We are experiencing an avalanche of business closures, layoffs and unemployment insurance filings in northeast Indiana. The numbers are truly shocking,” Rick Farrant, the agency’s communications director, said in an email.

“We know that the service industry, particularly restaurants but also other segments of the industry, have been hit hard by closures and layoffs,” he said.

“The largely untold story to this point is that manufacturing is also taking a hit. That’s important because manufacturing is the largest employer in northeast Indiana, supporting roughly 85,000 jobs.”

The ripple effect from these layoffs is particularly noticeable in manufacturing when layoffs take place at the supply chain level after major producers shut down temporarily, Farrant said.

“Ironically in this challenging time, many employers are still hiring. Most of the jobs are in the healthcare, cleaning and retail sectors,” he said.

“Healthcare, which was woefully short on workers before this virus hit, has even greater needs now for workers at all levels, for obvious reasons,” Farrant said.

“So, even though many employers are considering their layoffs will be short-term, none of us know how long this situation will last and there are opportunities for work for those who find themselves unemployed.”

DWD scheduled 30-minute live webinars for 10:30 a.m. March 24, and 3 p.m. March 25 for laid off Hoosiers affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

The program was designed to cover unemployment insurance eligibility requirements, the benefits application process and the Indiana unemployment benefits formula and amounts, as determined by state statute, as well as answers to frequently asked questions.

“We are taking these measures to help the public better understand the process and, most importantly, how to apply for benefits,” DWD Commissioner Fred Payne said in an announcement.

“During this time of uncertainty, we want to provide as much information to the public as we possibly can, and the live webinars are part of those efforts.”

Live online attendance was to be limited to the first 500 registrants for each webinar but up to 5,000 would be able to register for each and the department said a recording of it would be made available to all registrants.

“Once recorded, the program will then be posted on the special landing page established by DWD: www.in.gov/dwd/19.htm. To register, visit: https://on.in.gov/UI2020,” it said.

The department asked employers who planned to close or reduce worker hours in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to encourage their workers to file for unemployment benefits.

WorkOne Northeast announced a few days after the bar and tavern shutdown that eight of its career centers were closed to in-person visits and centers in Fort Wayne, Auburn and Marion were limited to self-service use of computers.

That soon changed, and it announced March 23 all 11 of its centers would be closed to the public indefinitely, effective the next day. People losing jobs were told to file for unemployment benefits online at www.unemployment.in.gov by computer, tablet or smartphone.

The actions were designed to protect WorkOne customers, staff members, their families and communities the centers serve as the region and nation work to slow the spread of COVID-19, it said in an announcement.

“These are challenging times for everyone and it is essential that we do our part in stemming the spread of the virus,” said Edmond O’Neal, president of Northeast Indiana Works, which oversees the region’s WorkOne centers.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and any updates regarding the status of the centers will be posted on the Northeast Indiana Works website, www.neinworks.org.”

To help with job searches, Northeast Indiana Works recommended the www.indianacareerconnect.com website and said selected jobs would be posted at the WorkOne Northeast Facebook page.

It also said staff could respond to voicemail messages left at center numbers, but call returns could take longer than usual because of high volume.

It listed the following numbers for its centers: Angola, 260-624-2004; Auburn, 260-925-0124; Bluffton, 260-824-0855; Columbia City, 260-248-8611; Decatur, 260-724-4963; Fort Wayne, 260-745-3555; Grant, 765-668-8911; Huntington, 260-356-2858; Kendallville, 260-599-1000; LaGrange, 260-499-4835; Wabash, 260-563-8421.

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