Applications for unemployment benefits are spiking in Missouri. The increase reflects a nationwide unemployment surge and comes as droves of businesses close across the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, more than 42,000 Missourians filed for unemployment. That’s more than 10 times as many people as in the previous week. The application numbers rival those of the Great Recession in the late-2000s.
In St. Louis, scores of restaurants and entertainment venues have shuttered, and the tourism industry has taken major financial hits.
The Four Seasons Hotel is among those companies making cuts. It furloughed 291 employees this week. Its restaurant, bar and spa closed last week, and the hotel itself shuttered on Wednesday.
General manager Alper Oztok said he hopes the decision to close will keep staff healthy and help business return to normal sooner.
“Our intention was to keep our employees safe by letting them stay home during these difficult times,” he said. “I’m hoping that within a couple of weeks, we get good news from the local government that we can go back to work.”
The hotel “intends this furlough to be temporary,” representatives wrote in a notice to the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development. But, they added, “it [is] possible that this furlough could become permanent.”
The state’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is changing some regulations to direct benefits to people more quickly if they’ve been laid off in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to a release from the governor’s office, the department will relax job search requirements, waive a weeklong waiting period required for other unemployment insurance claims and forgive some charges normally levied against employers’ unemployment insurance accounts.
Department representatives said in an email that they are using staff from all of its offices to help manage the large volume of applications. They have also prepared their online application system to handle more users.
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