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Amid Stay-At-Home Orders, More Than 68,000 People In Kansas And Missouri File For Unemployment

Andrew Turner
Auctioneer Andrew Turner recently had to layof his employees after the city declared a state of emergency.f

Tens of thousands of people across Kansas and Missouri filed for unemployment benefits as many businesses were ordered to close to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Andrew Turner owns an auction house in the East Bottoms area of Kansas City, Missouri. He had to shut his business down two weeks ago after the city declared a state of emergency. 

“It's just kind of been a nightmare,” said Turner. “There's been zero business, and it's hard to manage with nothing coming in.”

Andrew Turner Auctions employs less than a dozen workers, most of whom Turner said are his good friends. Turner said he had to tell them all to apply for unemployment or look for other jobs to keep them afloat until they can return to work.

Many of his employees joined the 3.3 million people nationwide applying for unemployment assistance over the past week. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s latest weekly jobless claims report, claims in Missouri jumped by more than 36,000, and in Kansas, they spiked by nearly 22,000.

Turner also found himself applying for unemployment to help make ends meet. He said the process of making a claim in Missouri was confusing at times.

“Even the website is very hard to navigate. I could just imagine how someone without a high school degree could give up pretty quick on that,” said Turner. 

In addition to the website, Turner said that he faced long-wait times and was frequently transferred on the phone.

Frank Lenk is the director of research services at the Kansas City-based nonprofit, Mid-America Regional Council. He said that cases like Turner’s may become more frequent in the upcoming weeks.

“It’s clear the economy is in recession, and it’s probably going to be a painful one for the people that are thrown out of work. And there’s going to be a lot of them,” said Lenk.

Waldo Thai, a restaurant in south Kansas City, hasn’t had to lay off any workers but has cut their hours. Executive chef Pam Liberda said she took a cut to her salary to make sure other employees get paid.

Bar Manager Darrell Loo said he is worried about how long they can keep this up during the metro-wide “stay-at-home” order.

“We literally play it day by day. We were lucky enough to defer most of our payments and rent for April but we all understand this is not a long term solution,” said Loo.

Liberda and Loo said they are also trying to support other restaurants impacted by the coronavirus. They’ve begun giving out around thirty free meals during lunchtime to displaced workers. The restaurant was able to give away 150 meals today in collaboration with ChowNow and Open Belly Podcast.

Loo said the small business emergency relief fund approved as part of the Kansas City budget could help restaurants like his stay afloat for longer. 

Turner said he has a hard time believing that the $500,000 that Mayor Lucas wants in the fund will be enough to support all of the small businesses in Kansas City. He hopes to receive assistance from the federal emergency aid that passed through congress last night so he can open his business back up in May.

Jodi Fortino is a news intern at KCUR.

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