During the last two weeks of March, the number of unemployment claims filed in the Rio Grande Valley surpassed the total number of claims filed during the entirety of March 2019.

More than 17,000 unemployment claims were filed during those last two weeks in March in Hidalgo, Starr, Cameron, and Willacy counties combined, according to data gathered by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. Around the same time last year, March 2019, approximately 3,700 claims were filed.

The data showed a significant jump from the first half of March — when the number of claims filed were on par with the claims filed during the same time last year — and the latter half of the month, when the numbers more than doubled.

In Hidalgo County 7,758 unemployment claims were filed during the week ending on March 28. The previous week, which ended March 21, saw 3,356 claims.

That’s in sharp contrast to earlier that month when only 833 claims were filed for the week ending on March 14 and 966 for the week ending on March 7.

Throughout the entire month of March 2019, 2,324 unemployment claims were filed in Hidalgo County.

Cameron County unemployment claims showed similar patterns: 3,810 unemployment claims were filed in the week ending on March 28 while 1,288 — less than half — were filed the previous week, ending on March 21.

In the first half of March, claims in Cameron were significantly lower, like they were in Hidalgo County. During the week ending on March 14, 294 claims were filed. That’s a small decrease from the previous week, when 352 claims were filed.

In Cameron County, 999 unemployment claims were filed during the entire month of March 2019.

The numbers for Starr and Willacy Counties followed the same trend, though on a smaller scale.

Last month, 538 and 254 claims were filed in Starr County during the weeks ending on March 28 and March 21, respectively.

By comparison, 123 and 131 claims were filed during the weeks ending on March 14 and March 7.

In March 2019, a total of 323 unemployment claims were filed, ranging from 58 to 111 during the four weeks.

Lastly, Willacy County reported 82 and 35 claims during the weeks ending on March 28 and March 21, respectively.

Only 10 and 21 claims were filed during the weeks of March 14 and March 7, respectively.

While the overall numbers for Willacy are lower than the rest of the Rio Grande Valley, the numbers this year are still a notable jump form last year, when only 63 unemployment claims were filed in March 2019.

All throughout the United States, the number of people seeking some relief through unemployment insurance has jumped as efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus has led to the closure of dining areas, bars, beauty salons, and other businesses deemed non-essential.

It was around mid-March — when there was a spike in the number of unemployment claims — that the state and counties throughout the Valley started implementing limits on the number of people who could gather in a single area at a time.

During a virtual town hall hosted by Rio Grande City on April 8,  Rose Benavidez of the Starr County Industrial Foundation addressed the hit to the local economy.

Benavidez said they were working with local business, as well as the Rio Grande City and Roma Economic Development Corporations, to help business owners get access to resources such as loans and to encourage the community to buy from local businesses.

“We want to make certain that as we’re moving forward, we’re finding ways to keep them in a position where 15 days, 30 days, 60 days from now, they reopen their doors stronger than ever,” Benavidez said, “and a lot of that will be through economic assistance, but a vast majority of that will come from the support of the local community continuing to shop local.”

Regarding their unemployment figures, she foresaw they would look “very bleak” at the end of April.

“I caution everyone that those numbers are skewed and that they are isolated to forces beyond our control,” she said. “When things get back to normal, we know those numbers will level off.”