North Carolinians who have filed for unemployment insurance because of COVID-19 won’t see payments for at least two weeks, state officials said during a Friday, April 3 news conference. The head of the state’s employment office also said roughly 41,000 people have gotten payments.

Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians were left jobless after state and local governments issued stay-at-home orders, shutting down much of the economy to slow the spread of COVID-19.

While essential businesses are allowed to stay open, movie theaters, gyms, hair and nail salons, jewelry stores, and more were forced to close. Restaurants and private clubs are allowed to provide food only for takeout or delivery.

The Division of Employment Security, which handles unemployment benefits, saw a massive surge of applications. 

DES reported April 2 it received 353,480 initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits from March 16 – April 1. A weekly report issued the same day by the U.S. Department of Labor says 73,597 North Carolina workers should receive unemployment insurance benefits for the week ending March 21.

North Carolina has paid a little more than 41,000 people, amounting to around $10 million, said DES Assistant Secretary Lockhart Taylor during the news conference with Gov. Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 task force. Taylor wasn’t clear how many of the 41,000 recipients filed for benefits after the pandemic hit or if they lost their jobs before that.

The COVID-19 outbreak has put an unprecedented strain on the system, Gov. Roy Cooper said, and he’s aware that people are struggling to apply for benefits. The website to apply for benefits keeps crashing and the phone lines are overloaded with calls, CJ learned from several people who’ve applied. 

“Every claim represents a family on the edge. Every claim is crucial,” the governor said. “We will keep pushing to improve the system.”

Cooper signed an executive order on March 17 to make it easier for people to apply for unemployment benefits. 

The one-week waiting period to apply for unemployment benefits was lifted, and people are no longer required to show they have been searching for work to get unemployment benefits. Applicants can now apply remotely to receive help. Employers won’t be penalized for laying off workers because of the coronavirus.

Editor’s note: The first paragraph of this story was revised after publication for clarity.