Pandemic continues taking economic toll in Malheur County as jobless claims pile up

The Denny’s at 76 East Goodfellow St. in Ontario is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

Malheur County residents continued to line up for unemployment benefits last week, with the state Employment Department reporting 120 new claims filed.

The travel industry continues to be the hardest hit, with 38 employees in the lodging or restaurant business seeking benefits last week. In the past month, 132 people in the industry sought help as restaurants closed or reduced operations.

The health care industry also continued to shed jobs, with 25 people in the care profession seeking unemployment benefits. In the past month, the total who have lost jobs and filed for help was 99.

Overall, 384 Malheur County residents have submitted claims for unemployment. Across Oregon, new claims last week totaled 53,800.

In February, before the coronavirus-related layoffs hit, Malheur County had 459 people unemployed on a seasonally adjusted count, according to the state Employment Department. A year, the county had 609 unemployed out of a workforce of about 12,000.

Local businesses had sought federal help to continue operations but funding to help cover payroll costs ran out this week. Government authorities say that may lead to additional layoffs since action by Congress is needed to increase funding for those programs and there has been no scheduled vote for such new funding.

The Employment Department said it has increased processing of unemployment claims, paying $97 million in benefits for the week ending April 11. The week before, benefit payments totaled $23 million. The benefits include an extra $600 weekly appropriated by Congress that goes on top of normal unemployment benefits.

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