Executive Director Jackie Turner of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security spoke with Y’all Politics about the current state of MDES and massive amount of unemployment claims they have received.

Before the COVID pandemic hit, Turner said Mississippi was seeing an exceptionally good economy, which meant lower amounts of unemployment claims.

“We were seeing about 1,000 or less claims per week. This meant unemployment rates were lower, required workforce to take that number of claims were reduced,” said Turner. “We are federally funded state agency through the Department of Labor and our funding is less in periods of economic boom.”

At the highest weekly claims, Turner said there were just below 46,000. That brings the state’s claims well over 200,000 claims. The Department of Labor updates its website with accurate numbers of how many unemployment claims have been made in Mississippi each Thursday.

For many people this was the first time they were claiming unemployment, for others they only qualified after federal pandemic relief was changed.

Turner said one of the initial changes was the waiving of the one week waiting period. Gov. Reeves also waived the work search requirements.

Jackie Turner, Executive Director MDES

“Congress passed the CARES Act and in it, they provided for unemployment insurance funding for workers who don’t typically qualify for the programs in their state,” said Turner. This included self employed workers, 1099 workers and more. If those workers met the criteria they qualified for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

She said that has been a key program for workers across the state who have needed funding during this time. The federal government also allowed for extended unemployment for those who had used up what they already received.

As the economy has begun to reopen, Turner echoed Governor Reeves’ sentiments that it is vitally important for people who can return to work, to do so.

“It is against the law to draw from any of these programs if you have a job to go back to,” said Turner. “If someone refuses their job when one has been offered, specifically the one they came out of, there will be investigations and look backs along the way.”

Turner said there is a mechanism for employers to report this type of behavior and when there is a match those who were still receiving payments will owe them back with penalties and interest.

At this time, the federal programs providing additional unemployment dollars ends in July.

“Draw unemployment when you need it, but do not try to draw it if you’re not entitled to it because its unlawful and we need to get the economy jump started again,” said Turner.

With such a large amount of individuals drawing on unemployment, Turner said she is in conversation with the Legislature as to whether or not MDES will need additional funds. The state will control $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding. Turner said they anticipate making some asks to cover administrative costs that may not already be covered by the Department of Labor.

If you are still in need of unemployment assistance you can find out more HERE.