Fewer than two full days after Gov. Tim Walz ordered dozens of business types to close amid the coronavirus outbreak, more than 50,000 Minnesotans suddenly out of work have applied for unemployment benefits.
An executive order by the governor immediately unlocked a $1.5 billion trust fund that has Minnesota's unemployed in "good shape," according to Steve Grove, commissioner of DEED.
"It is healthy. It's one of the larger funds per capita that any state has," Grove said.
This week a year ago there were 2,100 Minnesotans applying for unemployment. There have been 50,000 already this week, including 32,000 applicants on Tuesday, the first day after Walz banned dining in at restaurants and bars and halting operations at numerous other types of business.
To keep up with the unprecedented increase in demand for unemployment benefits, the benefit center has amped up staffing and added servers to keep the site from crashing, which so far has held up well despite occasional slowdowns.
For some scale, last year at this time there was an average of 40-50 applicants per hour. There were 2,000 applicants an hour on Tuesday.
DEED has tried to forecast how long the $1.5 billion trust fund will last, and estimating 120,000 applicants this week alone, one-third of the fund would be depleted in 12 weeks. If Minnesota's unemployment rate reaches 10% (about 300,000 applicants), the entire $1.5 billion would gone in 12 weeks.
The good news, according to Grove, is that the federal government consistently backs states when a trust fund is depleted.
Meanwhile, Grove said the state is close to opening up the state's disaster loan funds to small businesses: "More to come there soon," he said.