BOSTON -- Bracing for an onslaught on laid-off workers, lawmakers on Wednesday eased rules for unemployment claims for those left jobless amid aggressive precautions to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Tens of thousands of Massachusetts workers have filed unemployment insurance claims in recent days as the impact of statewide restrictions took hold and companies told employees to work from home to prevent spread of the virus. On Monday there were nearly 20,000 claims filed, according to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

Gov. Charlie Baker filed the emergency legislation earlier this week, which eliminates a one-week waiting period for laid-off workers to file for unemployment benefits.

The House and Senate quickly passed the measure on a voice vote Wednesday morning, with only a handful of lawmakers in the chambers. Baker signed it shortly after.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he is "deeply concerned about the hardworking Massachusetts residents who are out of work because of measures far beyond their control.

"We sincerely appreciate all employees who are taking steps for the greater good in this public health crisis, while understanding the grave economic impact it has on their own families," DeLeo said.

Baker said he expects the numbers of unemployed to skyrocket following the state of emergency that shuttered bars and restaurants, forcing many to temporarily lay off workers.

"I fully expect we're going to see a significant spike in the number of people on unemployment," Baker told reporters at a Tuesday briefing. "Frankly, given the circumstances, I hope that turns out to be the case."

It's not yet clear what the impact the surge of claims will have on the state's unemployment rate.

Massachusetts' 2.9% unemployment rate was one of the lowest in the nation in January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The state’s labor force participation rate – the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work – was at 67.9% for that month, according to the data.

The Baker administration had already eased some of the state's unemployment regulations to make it easier to laid off workers to get benefits.

"This will allow many of the workers affected by closures to get some financial relief," Baker said this week.

States can pay unemployment benefits if a worker is quarantined due to an order by a medical professional or leaves employment due to reasonable risk of exposure or infection, or to care for a family member, according to guidance issued by the U.S. Labor Department. Workers do not to provide medical documentation, according to the federal agency.

Aside from the impact on the workforce, DeLeo said legislative leaders are concerned about the effects of a surge of claims on the state's unemployment insurance fund.

"We are actively conferring with our partners in the administration to understand more about these constraints," he said in a statement.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Eagle-Tribune. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com

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