Downtown streets were unusually empty in the afternoon on Tuesday, March 17. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

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For a second week, the number of people seeking unemployment in Marion and Polk counties has decreased. 

According to numbers released by the Oregon Employment Department Thursday, 2,186 people in Marion County filed for initial unemployment benefits for the week of April 12. That’s a decrease from the 3,062 filed the previous week and 3,657 the week before. 

Polk County also saw a decrease. For the week of April 12, 533 people in Polk County filed for unemployment benefits down from the 762 the previous week and 858 the week before. 

The drop locally follows the rest of the state. For the week of April 12, the Oregon Employment Department received 36,700 initial claims for unemployment benefits. A drop from the 53,800 claims filed the previous week and 78,100 the week before. 

However, the state still faces record claims from people seeking relief as the economy has shed jobs as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since the week of March 15, when state orders went into effect to curtail the spread of the virus, Oregon has received about 333,700 initial claims for unemployment insurance.

According to a press release, the department is working toward launching its Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and aims to have it open by the end of the month. The program is part of the federal relief package passed by Congress in response to the pandemic and provides benefits to self-employed as well as contract and gig workers who wouldn’t normally be eligible for benefits. 

The department is still not waiving the one-week waiting period before applicants can receive benefits because of technical problems. The department has begun including the additional $600 to weekly unemployment benefits provided by the federal relief package. 

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.