As Grand Forks businesses rehire, broader effects of ‘smart restart’ unclear
Managers are moving forward, hoping for the best in an effort to settle into a new normal.
Managers at a Grand Forks Texas Roadhouse are hiring again as the business begins to reopen to dine-in customers.
Kalen Carver, the restaurant’s managing partner, said he had to lay off about 30 of the 100 people who work there as a novel coronavirus shut down sector after sector of the U.S. economy. He said he now plans to hire more than 30 people back.
“We've been hiring for two to three weeks now,” he told the Herald. “So far, it's been really good.”
About a mile east, the same is happening at Southgate Casino Bar and Grill. The majority of Southgate’s employees were collecting unemployment insurance while the restaurant was closed. It only took a crew of one to two workers to prepare carryout meals. Fully staffed, the restaurant employs about 35 people.
“It’s kind of back to normal, as far as staff-wise,” said manager John Sundby.
Anecdotally, restaurants, such as Carver’s and Sundby’s, are bringing employees back as North Dakota wraps up the first week of a “smart restart” plan to reopen the state economy, which has taken a nosedive during the pandemic.
But, statistically, it’s not yet clear how many North Dakotans or Grand Forks County residents are heading back to work. That’s because data about unemployment insurance filings and payments is delayed by about a week: A set of figures released Thursday, May 7, covers the week spanning Sunday, April 26, through Saturday, May 2.
The first day of the “restart” plan was May 1, which means data about the following week, during which businesses gradually reopened to a limited number of patrons, won’t be available to the public until Thursday, May 14.
Prior to the restart, thousands of workers in the county filed for unemployment, spiking at 1,411 initial claims the week of April 4. The week of May 2, that figure had fallen to 375 new claims.
But the amount of unemployment insurance the state has paid out is presumably a better measure of the number of people who collect payments from it. That dollar amount has risen sharply -- and stayed high -- since mid-March. Grand Forks County residents drew between $816,000 and $925,000 each week since the week of April 11.
Staff at the state’s Labor Market Information Center said that’s because people were not yet re-entering the workforce.
“With reopening, we will see some of that change," ” said Marcia Havens, a manager at the center.
People who draw unemployment insurance are required to renew it each week. Between March 16 and May 2, Grand Forks County residents drew a total of $3.99 million worth of unemployment insurance.
Information center staff did not have a readily available figure to indicate the number of Grand Forks County residents who are receiving unemployment insurance. Reports produced by the center put the number of unemployed Grand Forks County residents between 908 and 1,730 people in March. The lower figure was recorded the week of March 12.
Since that week, residents have filed 5,568 initial unemployment claims, but adding that figure to the March 12 unemployment one might not yield an accurate countywide unemployment figure because residents can collect insurance payments if, for instance, they’ve had their hours reduced but are still employed.
Beyond that, there are three provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act -- often shortened to the “CARES” act -- that add to the scope, duration or size of unemployment insurance payments.
“Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” in effect, allows people who are self-employed, still seeking part-time work or have exhausted run-of-the-mill unemployment to file. It’s designed to cover people who would otherwise not be covered by normal unemployment insurance, such as “gig” workers.
The act also set up “Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation,” which means an extra $600 each week on top of a person’s regular benefits through July 25 -- and, retroactively, through April 4. That money is automatically added to the amount that claimants receive from the state.
And North Dakota state workers are still working to pay out money from the third provision in the CARES act: “Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation,” which extends for 13 weeks unemployment benefits for people who were collecting them before the pandemic.