Unemployment claims in Idaho and Washington continued to decline last week, though plenty of laid-off workers still filed for benefits.

There were 7,495 jobless filings in Idaho and 100,762 in Washington during the week of April 26-May 2.

There have been a total of 125,306 unemployment filings in Idaho since coronavirus shutdowns started to take hold in mid-March, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. That is more than double the total number of claims in 2019.

It was the fifth consecutive week that the weekly total of Idaho claims decreased. Of the total number of claims, 71,794 people are still claiming benefits and have been unable to return to work, according to the state Department of Labor.

The department has paid out $59,185,102 in benefits since March 23. That does not include an additional $97,119,600 in $600 weekly benefit payments through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which was implemented in Idaho on April 24.

In Washington, more than 1.4 million claims have been filed and more than $2.1 billion has been paid out since early March.

Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine stressed that there is no concern about unemployment benefits running out. Those benefits currently include additional money from the federal rescue package that adds an additional $600 a week in jobless aid on top of what recipients receive from the state. That package also adds an additional 13 weeks of benefits beyond the 26 weeks offered in Washington

Because of the federal bonus, in some cases, people are making more money on unemployment than their did in their jobs. LeVine said those applying for benefits must be truthful about whether they’ve been offered work and turned it down. In some cases — like if they are caring for a sick family member, or if their children are home because of school closures — benefits will still be paid.

“If you intentionally improperly answer those questions or lie, that is considered fraud,” she said.

More than 1 million claims for unemployment benefits — with some of that number reflecting people who filed multiple claims seeking retroactive payments — were filed for the week of April 26-May 2, and more than $639 million was paid out. While the number of initial claims was down from the previous week, LeVine said she does expect the number of overall cumulative claims to grow until larger numbers of people start to return to work as businesses start to reopen under Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan announced last Friday.

The state’s stay-at-home order — in place since March 23 — has been extended by Inslee through at least May 31, though restrictions have been eased in some areas and will continue to lifted in phases over the next few months.

Day use activities at most state parks and some outdoor recreation like hunting, golfing and fishing resumed Tuesday. Previously Inslee announced the resumption of existing construction projects, and retail curbside pickup, automobile sales and car washes can start by mid-May. The next phase, expected to start June 1, would allow camping, new construction, and in-store retail purchases, with restrictions. Barber shops and salons could also reopen at that time, and restaurants could reopen at half capacity and table sizes limited to five.

There will be a minimum of three weeks between each phase, though Inslee said some counties with lower numbers of cases and deaths may be able to move to the second phase of the reopening schedule if approved by the Department of Health.

Nationwide, roughly 33.5 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the seven weeks since the coronavirus began forcing millions of companies to close their doors and slash their workforces.

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