Massachusetts residents filed nearly 20,000 new unemployment claims on Monday, topping the total from the entire month of February and providing an early sign of the sharp economic pain wrought by the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The 19,884 new initial claims flowed in a day after Governor Charlie Baker announced that all restaurants and bars would be limited to only takeout and delivery as of Tuesday, in one of his most sweeping actions since declaring a state of emergency last week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That single-day total exceeded the 17,382 claims the state handled all of last month, according to Charles Pearce, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
The spike is unusual, even in bad economic times, when claims usually flow in over time as the economy slows down.
The state Department of Unemployment Assistance can pay out benefits to workers who are quarantined due to an order by a civil authority or medical professional, or are unemployed because of “reasonable risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member,” according to state officials. A worker doesn’t need to provide medical documentation, according to a new site the state launched to provide information on benefits amid the pandemic.
Baker on Monday filed legislation that would allow some workers to begin immediately collecting benefits and avoid the current one-week waiting period. It will allow those who are laid off or have their business shut down in response to the virus to begin collecting.
The bill later sailed through the House and Senate on Wednesday, and Baker signed it into law.
State officials also encouraged residents to apply for benefits online.
In a statement Wednesday, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Representative Aaron Michlewitz, the chamber’s budget chairman, said: “We must quickly cease the one week wait period. We recognize there is more work to be done to support Massachusetts workers and families, and actively ask House members to engage with House leadership on additional ideas.”