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Governor relaxes rules for unemployment

To relieve some of the economic burden of social distancing, Gov. Reeves signed an executive order Saturday waiving work search requirements and eliminating a one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and their employees are the people who keep our economy going. We have worked very closely with the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to help employees of small businesses that are having a difficult time keeping their doors open in these challenging times,” Reeves said.

COVID-19 is a serious disease in part because a high percentage of patients will require intensive care, potentially overwhelming a healthcare system with a limited number of beds and ventilators. When a pandemic stretches hospital resources, healthcare workers must rely on triage, a process where some patients are prioritized over others based on the likelihood that intensive care will save a patient’s life.

Social distancing is an attempt at “flattening the curve” — slowing the spread of the disease enough to prevent hospitals from being flooded with cases and significantly reducing the number of avoidable deaths. The Mississippi State Department of Health is recommending that everyone avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and to maintain a separation from others of at least six feet. Schools have been closed and most restaurants have moved to curbside pickup only.

Social distancing measures require reducing economic activity, and nationally the economic impact of the virus has been severe. Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, said Reeves’ decision would bring peace of mind to people who are living with financial uncertainty because of the virus.

“It’s very important for people to feel they have money coming in to feed their families,” Currie said. “Getting rid of some of the red tape for families to receive these benefits is vital during this time.”

Some businesses are taking the initiative and providing their employees with paid time off. Walmart announced March 10 that the company is waiving its attendance policy through the end of April, as well as providing up to two weeks of paid leave for those who are under quarantine or who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Walmart also said in a press release recently the company will be bringing more than 2,400 jobs to the state due to the increase in demand for goods.

The order impacts all claims filed between March 8 and June 27. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security has also modified its unemployment rules to include people who are unable to work because a quarantine order from a medial professional or government agency, those who are laid off or sent home without pay because of the virus, those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and those who are caring for immediate family members with COVID-19.

WIN Job Centers around the state have been closed to all but appointments since March 16, and MDES is encouraging people to apply for unemployment online at www.mdes.ms.gov. The public may also apply by phone at 888-844-3577.