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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

More Than 64,000 Montanans Have Filed For Unemployment Since Mid March

A screen capture from Montana's unemployment website,, April 01, 2020, telling visitors the unemployment office is experiencing unprecedented call volumes and directing visitors to more resources.

The number of Montanans filing for unemployment continues to rise. More than 64,000 people in the state have filed a claim for benefits since the first case of the novel coronavirus was reported in Montana in mid March.

The new unemployment filings equate to almost 6 percent of Montana’s population.

State lawmakers on the Economic Affairs Interim Committee were briefed Thursday on the unprecedented labor situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brenda Nordlund is the Acting Commissioner of Labor & Industry.

"Prior to COVID-19, incoming claims and reactivations averaged approximately 557 per week," Nordlund says. "Between March 15, which was the Sunday following the emergency declaration, through April 3rd, the weekly average of incoming claims and reactivations rose to 17,640."

Nordlund was asked during the legislative committee how the state agency is preventing potential fraud. She said the agency has not changed its standards for judging unemployment claims and the agency will be accountable to both the executive and legislative branch of government.

"We have to take a look at every employee, or every requirement that makes someone eligible or ineligible, and we will be held accountable, not only to the executive branch of government, we will also be held accountable, of course, to the legislative branch."

Montana’s accommodations and food service industry is especially hard hit as dine-in restaurants and bars remain ordered to close. Nearly 10,000 workers in that sector filed for unemployment last month. Construction workers filed for benefits at the next highest rate in March with more than 4,000 claims. More than 3,000 claims for unemployment last month came from health care and social assistance workers.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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