BOISE, Idaho — Idaho has issued more than 60,000 unemployment payments totaling nearly $18 million to some 30,000 workers who have lost jobs due to the coronavirus, officials said Monday.
The Idaho Department of Labor also said that it is adjusting its phone schedule to better help those trying to make unemployment claims.
Nearly 78,000 people have filed claims since mid-March, though many have had trouble getting through on the phone.
The agency said applying online is best, though applicants should be wary of fake websites and make sure they are on a labor.idaho.gov site.
For those calling by phone, the agency said it will accept incoming calls between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and will reserve 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for processing claims.
"Adjusting our phone schedule means we can focus on processing claims so Idahoans will receive their benefit payments sooner," Labor Department Director Jani Revier. "This move reduces wait times for phone calls and click-to-chat interactions."
She said those with pending issues should make sure they're available to answer their phone from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. She said it could take several days to get a call because of the high volume of claims.
The department said it has also reassigned workers to help process claims and hired an additional 12 claims specialists with more to be hired later.
Idaho's unemployment rate had hovered around 3% the first 2½ months of the year. The department hasn't updated that number yet, but the Washington-based Tax Foundation said Idaho's unemployment late last week was running at 7.3%.
The unemployment numbers started surging after Gov. Brad Little issued an emergency declaration on March 13 because of the coronavirus and followed with a statewide stay-at-home order on March 25 that expires at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
But the Republican governor has scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. Wednesday regarding the stay-at-home order. He has previously said he doesn't expect life to get back to normal until there is a vaccine or a good treatment for the virus.
Idaho has 1,426 virus cases and 27 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally Monday afternoon.
The coronavirus is mainly spread through coughs and sneezes. For most people, it causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.