Idaho Dept of Labor sign

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — So many Idaho workers lost jobs so quickly this year due to the coronavirus pandemic that an unemployment extended benefits program will go into effect that was last used during the Great Recession in 2009, the state Department of Labor said Wednesday.

The program will give people receiving weekly unemployment payments up to 13 weeks of additional unemployment insurance beyond the normal 20-week maximum period for payments.

Idaho won't pay for the extra unemployment payments because a federal program called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation that's part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package approved by Congress in March offers the extended benefits.

That means the state does not yet need to tap into its unemployment insurance fund for the extended benefits. That fund comes from taxes paid by employers.

Republican Gov. Brad Little issued an emergency declaration on March 13 after the virus was confirmed in the state and then on March 25 a stay-at-home order for the state’s 1.75 million residents as the virus appeared to be spreading out of control. Idaho’s economy began shutting down with some 130,000 unemployment claims filed over the next eight weeks.

Idaho's current unemployment rate is 8.9% The agency said that last week it paid nearly 42,000 weeks of unemployment in the regular program as well as about 3,500 weekly payments in extended benefits under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

In addition, the agency said, it sent out about 57,000 weekly checks to the self-employed.

The maximum weekly payment is $405. Unemployed workers can also receive a $600 weekly federal supplement that's scheduled to stop at the end of July.

The trigger for extending unemployment payments for the extra 13 weeks happened because May's state insured unemployment rates exceeded 5% and was more than 120% above the average insured unemployment rate for last two years. The insured unemployment category excludes some types of workers and gives a more exact picture of current unemployment.

“This is a very difficult number to achieve,” said Salvador Vazquez, labor market information director at the Labor Department. “When the economy gets really bad, when we trigger extended benefits as we have today, it's just an extended benefit to help these people out. To get a little more time to find a job.”

Unemployment benefits in Idaho could be extended for another six weeks in August after state officials re-evaluate the state's joblessness scenario, Vazquez said.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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