Nebraska has seen a tremendous spike in the number of unemployment claims filed over the past month, and it's affecting local businesses in Seward County.

Locally, the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership sent out a survey to area businesses to see how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting them directly.

SCCDP President and CEO Jonathan Jank said about 60 Seward County businesses responded to the survey. Jank shared the highlights April 16:

• Services and Retail Trade industries have been hit the hardest with closures.

• Some businesses in all sectors that responded have contacted their financial institutions or lenders for financial help. Sectors included Services, Retail Trade, Agriculture, Education (including daycare), Manufacturing and Financial Services.

• In all of those industries except Financial Services, at least a few businesses reported a change in their employee count because of COVID-19.

• Among the top concerns for those who responded were the impact of COVID-19 on operations, consumer confidence and supply chain disruptions.

“Unfortunately we see permanent reductions in workforce for Services, Retail and Ag,” Jank said. “I think this just shows overall the struggles that we have right now.”

See the accompanying graphics for more information on the survey.

Jank said these graphics show the initial findings of the survey, but that SCCDP is working on additional details to learn how to best assist businesses at this time.

State officials also are asking Nebraska businesses to complete a statewide survey to help gauge the effects of COVID-19 and potentially secure more federal relief dollars. That survey may be found at cpar.unomaha.edu/nebusinessresponse.

The Nebraska Department of Labor announced April 9 that 26,542 new unemployment insurance claims were filed during the week ending April 4. This is an increase of 8.2% from the previous week when 24,533 initial claims were filed.

However, over the past three weeks, 66,741 initial claims have been filed; there were 41,727 filed in the entire 2019 calendar year.

Claims data are available at https://neworks.nebraska.gov/gsipub/index.asp?docid=710 and are updated every Thursday.

NDOL reported the highest counts of initial claims were in the retail trade industry (3,744), which increased over 50% from the prior week (2,483).

Two industries had declines in initial claims from the prior week: accommodation and food services (-1,581, -30.6%) and arts, entertainment and recreation (-137, -14.9%). All other industries had increases in claims from the prior week.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced last week that restaurants are now allowed to conduct retail sales of pre-packaged food and other items to give them another revenue stream during the pandemic.

Jank said these items could include cereal, eggs, butter, bread, fresh produce, paper towels, toilet paper and disinfectant, to name a few.

Jank said one question SCCDP had received recently was whether or not businesses need a letter or some sort of certification to remain open if they haven't already been shut down by Directed Health Measures.

“The answer is no,” Jank said.

While Ricketts and health officials are encouraging people to stay home as much as possible, no mandated stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders have been issued for Nebraska.

Jank said businesses should consider the health and safety of their customers and employees, but they do not need to carry a letter, identification or other documentation proving they can leave their homes at this time.

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