Unemployment insurance payments are slower than they were pre-pandemic

Unemployment Insurance form with pen

The difference varies from one state to the next, but overall, things are slower since COVID-19 hit.

Not long aver the pandemic hit, the rate of joblessness in the United States spiked, sending millions of people to seek unemployment insurance benefits.

The systems in every state were required to issue checks following a spike in claims handling.

Because there was a sudden and sharp influx of unemployment insurance claims, the systems in place to manage them were not prepared for the numbers. This left people waiting for weeks – or even months in some circumstances – to receive their first payment check or funds transfer.

Unemployment Insurance - Person Stressed - Waiting

Since that initial wave, the state systems have seen some improvements. However, many of them still have yet to return to the levels they had achieved before the pandemic, as some states struggle to keep moving forward with outdated operating systems, being short staffed, and an ongoing claim backlog.

Many states are still sending slower unemployment insurance payments than before the pandemic.

In the 12 months that led up to the declaration of a pandemic, between 88 percent and 98 percent of benefits payments were made within 21 days of the claim filing. By June 2020, that number fell as low as 52 percent. As of February 2023, the recovery had still only reached 75.6 percent.

That said, that figure represents an average across the country. Some states have already recovered to the point that they are now sending 90 percent of the first payments within 2 days of a claimant having made their initial filing. Others, though, have clearly not yet come back to the point they had been maintaining pre-pandemic.

To be considered acceptable by the Labor Department, states are required to have 87 percent of regular first unemployment insurance payments made within 14 to 21 days of the claim filing. Promptness of payments has continued to vary from one state to the next.

Alabama, Colorado, Arkansas and Virginia are the states in which over half the claimants must wait for over 21 days to receive their first payments. On the other hand, Idaho and both North Dakota and South Dakota are issuing their first payments within 21 days at least 97 percent of the time.

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