New unemployment claims in Louisiana recovered after an unexpected spike.

New jobless claims in Louisiana nearly tripled for traditional unemployment benefits last week in an unexpected surge that a state agency attributes to increased interest triggered by recent approval of the federal coronavirus relief package. 

There were 22,869 new unemployment claims filed last week in Louisiana, up from 8,246 one week before, according to U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday.

"The uptick in new unemployment claims for benefits for the week ending Jan. 2 can be attributed to the new COVID relief bill," said Dede Dunham, spokesperson for the Louisiana Workforce Commission. "Many applicants reapplied in hopes to receive the additional $300 benefit. However, there is no need for claimants to reapply unless LWC directs them."

"We ask for patience while implementing benefits," she said.

Separately, there were only 29 new unemployment claims through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, an additional federal program carved out specifically for self-employed individuals, mostly independent contractors, compared to 2,353 new claims one week before.

The PUA program and traditional unemployment benefit recipients receive up to $247 a week in state jobless benefits. Eligible recipients can receive an extra $300 per week in federal benefits for 11 weeks from an extension allowed in the federal coronavirus relief package that was signed into law in late December.

Nationwide, there was a decline of 3,000 new unemployment claims compared to the week before, falling to 787,000 filed last week, a historically high number that points to a weak job market held back by the viral pandemic.

Industry and parish-level data for unemployment claims in Louisiana was not immediately available.

There were 62,177 continuing unemployment claims across the state for the week ending Dec. 26 and another 103,193 PUA program claims. Statewide unemployment benefits paid for the week ending Dec. 26 was $30.4 million.

The surge in last week's first-time claims, being attributed to an unnecessary filing of claims triggered by the federal stimulus package, is contrary to a spike over a two-week period seen in mid-November, many of which were thought to be fraudulent efforts to tap jobless benefits.

At that time, state officials halted new claim payments for applications submitted after Nov. 5 and are investigating tens of thousands of suspicious claims for fraud after 60,000 new claims were filed over a two-week period. Dozens of residents across the state had found approval letters for unemployment claims they did not file and sometimes even debit cards for benefits, prompting the investigation.

Since March, when the pandemic struck, the state agency has paid nearly $7 billion in unemployment benefits across 700,000 individuals.

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