Montana Public Radio

Surge In Claims Overwhelms Montana Unemployment Benefits Website

Mar 20, 2020

When Montanans go to the state’s unemployment website to file a claim they’re greeted with this message: "Unemployment Registration is currently experiencing high user load and may be slow, unresponsive, or down."

More than 2,800 people in Montana signed up for unemployment Wednesday following changes to regulations that allow some workers impacted by the novel coronavirus to use the social benefit.

By comparison, last Wednesday just 57 people filed for unemployment, according to Brenda Nordlund, acting commissioner of the state labor department.

"We are implementing emergency maintenance today and tomorrow to ensure our system can handle this extraordinary increase in claims,” Nordlund says.

The state’s unemployment registration website faced intermittent outages earlier this week due to the high level of use.

Emergency rules put in place earlier this week expand who is eligible for unemployment benefits in Montana, including workers told by their employer to leave work because of COVID-19. It also includes people who must quarantine or need to take care of a family member due to the virus.

The emergency rules don’t open the benefit to workers who are afraid of gathering in a group or refuse to go to work.

Mark Howser owns a diner in East Glacier that shut down earlier this week after pulling in only $8 in an evening shift. He says most of his workers have had a hard time signing up unemployment.

“One employee sat with me for an hour and a half while we continually tried to refresh the screen and tried to create an account," Howser says.

The Labor Department told Montana Public Radio Friday afternoon the website was up and running and accepting claims.