The state jobs agency, after getting more unemployment claims in the past two weeks than it did in all of 2019, on Monday asked newly jobless Minnesotans to apply for benefits online and on a schedule.
Under the system, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) wants applicants to file claims on certain days based the last digit of their Social Security number.
Separately, to help business owners who have been hurt by efforts to curtail coronavirus, DEED announced a new loan guarantee program.
With the change in claims scheduling, the agency is trying to smooth out the volume of filing.
People who have Social Security numbers ending in 0, 1 or 2 are asked to file for unemployment benefits on Mondays.
Those with SSNs ending in 3, 4 or 5 are asked to file on Tuesdays.
Those with SSNs ending in 6, 7, 8 or 9 are asked to file on Wednesdays.
The agency will take applications from everybody on Thursdays or Fridays.
"We are currently processing more applications for unemployment benefits than we have ever received before," the agency said.
There have been 239,263 new and reactivated unemployment-insurance applications filed between March 16 and Sunday night, state officials said. More than 116,000 Minnesotans filed for initial unemployment benefits during the week ending March 21 and another 80,000 or so followed last week.
"In the past two weeks … unemployment insurance has received or reactivated more applications than we got in all of last year," agency spokesman Eric Lightner said via e-mail.
Many businesses began to shut down temporarily the week of March 15 as government leaders urged Minnesotans to stay home and spread out to slow the spread of coronavirus. Gov. Tim Walz last week ordered even more restrictions, telling people to stay home except for trips to get things like groceries and for essential work. He granted many businesses exemptions to continue work, however, and keep people employed.
The abrupt closing of other businesses and loss of work is a sharp reversal from the prosperity of the Minnesota economy and labor market. In February, the state experienced a 3.1% jobless rate, near its all-time low.
But the number of claims filed in the past two weeks far exceeds the number of Minnesotans who didn't have work in February. And the agency's decision to try to level out the flow of claims is a sign that its leaders expect the number of jobless to continue rising.
The agency's new $10 million loan-guarantee program is expected to help tiny companies secure about $20 million to $25 million in loans from outside lenders.
"We created this loan-guarantee program because we know many small businesses across Minnesota need help and that existing emergency loan programs may not meet the needs of every business," DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said in a statement.
The loan-guarantee effort follows an emergency interest-free loan fund the state established this month for small businesses needing to borrow $2,500 to $35,000 to survive.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has also provided federal funds to help smaller companies.