Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - With unemployment hovering below three percent in Montana, seeking unemployment insurance has become much easier, thanks to a whole new unemployment insurance benefits and tax system recently unveiled in Helena.

KGVO News spoke to Montana Department of Labor & Industry Commissioner Sarah Swanson on Friday about how the new system has brought seeking unemployment insurance into the digital age.

The New Department of Labor and Industry System is now Part of the Digital Age

“This mobile friendly platform allows folks to apply from a cell phone or tablet,” began Commissioner Swanson. “The initial data gathered since last month’s launch indicates that approximately half of unemployment claimants are accessing the services from their phone utilizing this new mobile friendly functionality, and they're doing it in less than six and a half minutes.”

Swanson said the unemployment numbers are indeed impressive, since the old system was especially ineffective during the rush of claims during the COVID 19 pandemic.

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Unemployment in Montana is at a Record Low of 2.3 Percent

“We do have record low unemployment in Montana right now,” she said. “I believe the last month numbers were about 2.3 percent. Interestingly enough, Montana has only had 27 months in the history of our state with unemployment under 3 percent and 25 of those months have been the last 25 months, so it's been an interesting time coming right off of the pandemic and all of the additional claims we had for unemployment during that time, which was really a stress test for our old computer systems.”

Swanson explained the nuts and bolts of how unemployment insurance is collected and paid out.

“Unemployment in Montana is funded with a premium tax on both employer wages and employee wages,” she said. “Those dollars are deposited into the trust account that's held here at the Department of Labor for the benefit of Montanans. The trust account is basically insurance. For the unemployed, we've got the resources to pay the benefits they're entitled to. Once an individual is on unemployment and their claim has been verified, then they're entitled to a variation of weeks of benefits depending on how long they've been employed and what industry they were employed in up to 26 weeks of benefits.”

Unemployment in Montana Currently Ranges from $162 to $552 a Week

The amount an individual receives for unemployment is directly tied to the salary they received on the job. The average person receives $378 a week in unemployment benefits, according to U.S. Labor Department data as of year-end 2019. But that figure masks wide variation among states. Mississippi, the least generous state, paid an average $213 a week. Massachusetts, the most generous, paid $555.

In Montana, if you are eligible to receive unemployment, your weekly benefit rate will be 1 percent of your total wages during the base period or 1.9 percent of your wages in the two quarters of the base period in which you earned the most. The maximum weekly benefit amount is currently $552; the minimum amount is currently $163.

Swanson also explained that unemployment benefits are considered regular income and are subject to federal income tax, but are exempt from Montana Income Tax.

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