Local unemployment claims skyrocket as national numbers shatter records

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- More than six million people have filed for unemployment in America this past week, shattering national records.

The explosion of applicants have crashed benefit websites in our area. States are struggling to keep up with the need.

"As far as the economy, don't see how we can get things back to the way they were three months ago," says Trish Chelston.

Chelston is one of the thousands of newly unemployed people in New Jersey with a benefit application pending. The former solar panel saleswoman and mother of four was laid off two weeks ago.

"Things were going great. And now everything just came to a screeching halt," said Chelston.

RELATED: 6.6M applied for unemployment in US last week, doubling record high set 1 week earlier

The tri-state numbers are staggering. Jobless claims are up more than 2,000 percent in the last two weeks.

Last week alone in Pennsylvania nearly 406,000 people filed for unemployment.

In New Jersey, more than 205,000 jobless claims were filed.

In Delaware, new unemployment claims nearly reached 19,000 last week.

The surge in unemployment applications are proving difficult to process and approve. The Delaware Division of Labor and Employment is adding staff to the task.

"Our phone system is overloaded. We're getting more calls than we're able to receive," says Darryl Scott the Director of Delaware Labor and Unemployment. "The number of emails we are receiving has put us several days in a backlog in responding."

But Scott says the website, which is where the majority of people are applying for unemployment benefits, is holding steady.

Federal legislation has extended unemployment benefits for 13 weeks. A stimulus package will add payments of $600 a week for four months onto the benefits offered by the state.

While some struggle without work, healthcare services like Merakey are in need of employees.

The developmental, behavioral health provider is looking to hire an additional 600 people in the tri-state area. It will do so through virtual job fairs.

"The health and human services industry is in great need," says Joe Martz, CEO.

Laid off workers learn they also lost their health insurance

Many people who got laid off from their jobs also lost benefits, including their health care.

EMBED More News Videos

Local unemployment claims have skyrocketed amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

"I'm asthmatic so I'm in the at risk people. It's scary. Losing your job is one thing but with everything going on, losing your healthcare benefits is very, very scary." said Robert Gordon, of Audubon.

Jess Lowry got laid from her job as a fitness trainer and lost insurance coverage for her and her wife. She looked into getting Cobra coverage.

"It's going to be almost $1,800, do I look like I could afford $1,800 a month? I don't think so," said Lowry.

For Robert Gordon, who lost his job at a printing company, COBRA coverage would cost him $637 a month.

"I'm not sure who could afford almost $650 a month after losing their job and being unemployed," said Gordon.

Health care expert Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation says if you lost your health insurance because you lost your job, you can still enroll in a plan through Obamacare.

He says President Donald Trump's decision not to re-open enrollment has no impact because Obamacare qualifies everyone losing their jobs for enrollment.

Still, Levitt said, it's bound to potentially leave as many as 9 million people out in the cold. But they could have options.

He said people should check to see if they live in a state that runs their own health care exchanges. A dozen states have opted to re-open their exchanges due to the pandemic.

The other option for these 9.2 million people is to see if their now reduced income qualifies them for Medicaid. Of the 28 million Americans estimated in 2018 not to have insurance, 6.7 million people already qualified for Medicaid and can still sign up, Levitt said.
Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.