LOUISIANA WORKFORCE COMMISSIONN
Words from Secretary Ava DeJoie
From the very beginning, this disaster was different. Anyone working in Governor Edwards’ administration or observing Governor John Bel Edwards can immediately sense his military training; it’s even more evident during a disaster. The Unified Command Group on Wednesday, March 11th, 2020, was different from the very beginning. There was not an X hour to impact , a discussion of wind or storm surge, or river crest. This time, our threat was an elusive virus.
Clearly, we were on the precipice of an event that was unlike anything else. Winston Churchill said, “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” We learned so much from our country’s actions in response to the Spanish Flu, the creation of the modern-day Unemployment Insurance System, the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, the ingenuity of Louisianians building Higgins Boats and our entire country’s response to WWII.
It was with this historical backdrop in mind that Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) began its response to COVID-19. While the team at LWC are not first responders, it was our call to be the first line of defense, providing some financial assistance in the form of a partial wage replacement through Unemployment Insurance benefits. I urged the LWC team to think of themselves as those working in the production factory or supporting war efforts during WWII because clearly, we are at war with the virus. History would judge our response, and we wanted to be part of the 21st century’s greatest generation.
Resiliency – that word holds weight when describing Louisianians. Even before this COVID-19 outbreak, the people of Louisiana knew what it meant to “bounce back” from hard times. COVID-19 has drastically changed the lives of many Louisiana workers, as lay-offs increased to protect employees and consumers.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission is continuing to step up for those impacted workers.
The agency has increased staffing in the Unemployment Insurance Division, increased phone, and online capacity to better process claims in a more efficient manner. LWC has extended its call center hours from 8:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.
LWC did not shy away from showing up to offset the damage of this pandemic. The agency has witnessed an unprecedented 5000% increase in unemployment claims. In the first week of March 2020, LWC processed all of 1,255 new unemployment claims. By the third week, the team was processing more than 70,000. For the LWC, those are not just numbers or cases; they are real people with real stories who are facing a very real pandemic.
Those who qualify for unemployment insurance benefits during these atypical times are those who are facing a lay-off, a reduction in hours, or those mandated to stay home by an employer, the government or a health professional.
The state unemployment insurance weekly benefit is $247. Louisiana, along with other states, is receiving additional funds from the Federal CARES Act, which pays an extra weekly $600 in benefits. This emergency benefit is available through July 31, 2020.
Another funding source made available is by way of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, paying up to an additional $107 a week. This emergency benefit provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits to qualifying individuals. This includes people not otherwise eligible for regular state unemployment benefits, including the self-employed and those who have exhausted their regular and extended benefits.
If COVID-19 has disrupted a person’s employment, they can file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits online at (www.laworks.net) or by calling LWC’s claim center (1-866-783-5567). The agency is encouraging claimants to file online during non-peak hours – 10:00 P.M. to 4:00 A.M.
Thanks to Governor John Bel Edwards’ Executive Order 2020-27 and 2020-30, the Louisiana Workforce Commission has suspended the week of waiting along with the job search requirements for those filing for unemployment insurance benefits.
“No matter how bleak or menacing a situation may appear, it does not entirely own us. It can’t take away our freedom to respond, our power to take action.” – Ryder Carroll
Converting agency operations to strictly unemployment insurance (UI), training staff, setting up mobile operations, programing an entire state system to operate new Federal UI assistance, and continuing to operate the state system was a Herculean effort, which at times seemed impossible. Governor Edwards made it clear that failure was not option. Fast forward, and LWC has paid over 400,000 citizens over 1 billion dollars to date.
Fighting the virus, stopping the spread, putting people back to work, restoring the economy, and stopping the senseless deaths remain paramount. Yet, I find comfort in our country’s history. I find hope in Governor Edwards’ leadership. When we are united, we focus on the common good, and with God’s grace, we will succeed. This is our time to be the Next Greatest Generation by doing our part. In providing services to our fellow citizens, LWC has risen to the occasion. LWC will be even more zealous in “putting people to work” because we are the opportunity agency, not the unemployment office. United we will succeed, but we must look to history and learn that only a united response and a united defense can conquer our shared COVID-19 enemy.
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