Layoffs are becoming the new norm for businesses across the country who are dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the United States, it is leaving economic wreckage in its wake. Perhaps no other data shows this more clearly than the current — and growing — number of unemployment claims being filed.

As of Thursday, March 19, the federal government reported that 281,000 new claims had been filed between March 8 and 14, according to Department of Labor Statistics.

Between Monday and Wednesday of this past week (beginning March 16), roughly 694,000 new people filed claims in 17 states, as mandates were put in place in several of those states (including Oregon and Washington) that restaurants, bars and non-essential business (such as hair and nail salons) must shut their doors.

DANIELLE KANEThe skyrocketing number of claims is more than local unemployment offices and systems can keep up with.

While the Department of Labor has still not released a total number as of March 20, and won't do so until sometime next week, it is safe to assume based on published numbers that this total will exceed 700,000, likely moving into the 800,00-900,000 range.

For perspective: at the peak of the Great Recession in 2009, unemployment claims topped at 660,000.

I was speaking with a friend of mine, Michelle (last name left out for privacy), who works at a large, multi-branch physical therapy practice in Manhattan. As of Monday, March 16, she was told as clinic director, she needed to lay off several employees throughout the clinic by the end of the week.

"I was told I have only days to figure this out and hope it was enough to keep my office, among the many offices they have, afloat in the coming weeks," Michelle told me.

And this is a business that is allowed to stay open amid COVID-19.

While this may sound bleak, at Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific, we want to also provide the good news. Because there is some.

On March 18, the president signed into law the COVID-19 Coronavirus Response Act, which included a section titled Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access Act of 2020. This piece provides $1 billion for emergency grants to states for activities related to unemployment insurance benefit processing and payment.

  • The first half of resources are intended to provide immediate funding for administrative costs, so long as they meet some basic requirements, including the mandate that employers must provide notifications of the availability of unemployment compensation at the time of separation.
  • The second half is reserved for emergency grants to the states that experience an increase of unemployment compensation claims of at least 10% compared to the same quarter last year. The Act will provide those specific states with 100% federal funding to provide extended unemployment benefits to businesses' employees — up to an additional 26 weeks after the initial 26 weeks. Previously states were required to pay 50% of those unemployment benefits.
  • So, what can you, as a business owner do, to cut costs, minimize layoffs and, hopefully, not add to this surge in unemployment claims?

    A recent webinar held by EY (Ernst & Young is a multinational professional services firm specializing in financial advisory) focused on response planning during COVD-19.

    Speaker Juliette Meunier, workforce resilience leader, noted a few possibilities for businesses:

  • Forced vacation for employees to use already budgeted PTO
  • Mandatory reduced hours
  • Adjust 401k contributions
  • Furlough (leave of absence for a large number of employees)
  • Business owners around the country are trying to come up with fair and reasonable ways to take care of their employees without going under water. In this New York Times article, Robert Burns, owner of Night Shift Brewing, noted that he and the founders eliminated their own salaries to fund health benefits for 170 of their employees while they're on furlough.

    What all of this illustrates is that there is only one thing we can all be sure about right now: looking out for each other and nurturing employer-employee relationships will remain imperative. BBB NW+P encourages business owners to maintain those solid relationships with their employees amid this ongoing crisis. Talk to them about the unemployment benefits you offer, what is changing under the new Act, prepare answers to their questions and be as empathetic as possible.

    It is these transparent dialogues that build employer-employee trust during trying times.

    On a final note, every state structures unemployment benefits differently. To best serve our accredited businesses during this time, here is the state list for all of the regions in our Northwest + Pacific territory:

  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Alaska
  • Hawaii
  • Wyoming
  • For more information head to:

    Danielle Kane is the Portland Marketplace Manager for Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific. She can be reached at: 503-833-2301

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