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The Montana Department of Labor and Industry began paying the federal $600 stimulus benefit authorized in the CARES Act to Montanans filing for unemployment this week.

The payments, officially called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, totaled over $20.5 million in Montana alone, according to a news release from DLI.

Eligibility for unemployment was also expanded under the CARES act to include workers not previously able to apply for unemployment, like independent contractors and people who are self-employed. Also eligible under the expanded rules are those who are providing care to someone diagnosed with the virus or for children who can’t go to school, people who are quarantined and people who were scheduled to start a new job that is no longer available because of the virus.

However, those workers covered under the new eligibility rules won’t yet see those $600 payments. The department said it will begin processing and backdating claims as soon as a department review of the federal guidance is finished and changes can be made to the IT system to process them.

“We are working as hard as we can to make sure that everyone receives their benefits as quickly as possible,” said Brenda Nordlund, the acting commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. “This is an important step in employing the assistance provided as part of the CARES Act. We continue to urge patience, as the department works to implement all the components of this vital legislation.”

Initial claims for unemployment insurance payments fell for the second week in a row in Gallatin County, but continued claims saw another week of quick growth. For the week ending on April 11, Gallatin County residents filed 8,245 continued claims for unemployment and 2,357 initial claims for a total of 10,602 claims filed.

Statewide, a total of 78,186 Montanans filed for unemployment payments during the week ending April 11. Of those, more than 60,000 were continued claims. Regular unemployment payments and FPUC payments doled out in the state totaled $30,770,721.

In a Friday news release, the department advised all Montanans filing for unemployment insurance payments to be cautious about giving out any personal information to avoid scams.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.