Over the past number of weeks, the Government has introduced unprecedented measures. It introduced public health measures which are designed to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the disease to the greatest extent possible. Those measures, although necessary, have undoubtedly had a very significant and negative effect on our economy. Therefore, we have sought to lessen the economic impact through a number of actions. These include new and enhanced social protection payments for workers who, through no fault of their own, find themselves without an income; wage subsidy supports for employers to help them retain workers on their payroll, even as their trading income falls away; and financial supports, including loan guarantees, for businesses to help them cope with the impact of Covid-19 on their businesses and customers. We have also taken steps to protect people who may not be able to pay their rent or have difficulties keeping up with mortgage payments.
These steps are extraordinary and come with a high financial cost but these are extraordinary times. The budgetary costs and how we might have to pay for them in the future would be a cause of significant concern but they are little compared with the nightmare that some would be living through now if the necessary actions had not been taken to protect them. Our highest protection must be that of public life and human health, preventing the spread of the virus and working to mitigate its impact on the country. This is what we must do, what we have endeavoured to do and what we will continue to do. We passed two emergency laws in the past couple of weeks. I thank all Members of the Dáil for their co-operation in passing that legislation as we faced into such a crisis.
In terms of social protection, we started by introducing an enhanced illness benefit scheme through the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020. The measures were designed to ensure that a person who is diagnosed with Covid-19 or has had to self-isolate on medical grounds has immediate access to a higher level of support. This was introduced at a rate of €305 per week. It was subsequently increased to €350 per week. In addition, we increased the qualified adult rate from €134.70 to €147 to ensure that people with two adults in a family on a standard illness benefit would also receive the rate of €350. This rate of payment also applies to citizens who are unemployed due to the Covid-19 crisis. We achieved this by the introduction of the pandemic unemployment payment which is available to all Irish-resident workers, including the self-employed, who lose their employment income due to Covid-19. All jobseekers with an adult dependant, including those already in receipt of a jobseeker payment, also benefit from the increase in the rate of the qualified adult payment. We also eliminated waiting days for illness and jobseeker payments.
As businesses closed their doors in many areas of the economy and as workers were laid off, we all agreed it was important to find a mechanism that would enable employees to maintain their links with employers. We promptly introduced an employer refund scheme and emergency legislation to put in place an enhanced support known as the temporary wage subsidy scheme. This scheme, operated by the Revenue Commissioners, will see the Government contribute to eligible firms payroll costs by paying them a wage subsidy to be passed on to the employee on a temporary basis. This is about protecting, insofar as we can, thousands of jobs that were created and maintained in recent years.
When we emerge from the other side of this crisis, we hope that many employers will be able to start up from where they left off without the need to recruit new staff. From an employee perspective, they are provided with job security.
We have also taken other measures. This week we extended the fuel allowance season by four weeks to 9 May. This provides many welfare recipients, including those who may need to cocoon, with valuable support of €24.50 per week. It means that many thousands of pensioners and people with disabilities will have one less thing to worry about and they can remain safe and warm in their homes. We have also moved to a fortnightly rather than a weekly payment cycle. We have extended the period for which payments can be held at post offices to 90 days and agreed a temporary arrangement with An Post to enable nominated agents collect payments for welfare recipients where necessary.
All these measures are designed to support the people most vulnerable to the effects of this virus to stay at home and to stay safe. They will come at a significant cost to the Exchequer. They have been implemented at pace. They are not perfect and not without risk. Removing risk is impossible given the extraordinary scale of the challenge and the speed at which it materialised. Since the introduction of the pandemic payment, in just two weeks the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has up to last Friday received and processed 389,000 claims for this payment alone. This is on top of the normal run of processing claims and payments that are made to pensioners, people with disabilities, other job seekers and one-parent families among others.
The Department has been required to develop and implement new systems to create new functions. Normally this would have taken months of coding and testing. It has also introduced new claim application and processing functions. It continues to provide ongoing communications to the public through print, broadcast and social media as well as through very busy helplines. It has reassigned thousands of staff to ensure that people's claims are processed as quickly and as accurately as possible.
The staff at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection are not immune to the virus, in terms of self-isolation, sickness and bereavement. We have asked much of all of our civil servants and throughout our public service. They have responded to that task with an incredible sense of public duty. I take this opportunity to thank them for that.
As we can all understand, responding to a challenge of this scale is not easy. There have been difficulties, but not as significant as some may have expected. The Department's focus has been on paying people promptly and paying as many eligible people as possible to ensure the State can play its role in cushioning our citizens from the devastating impact of loss of employment. The various measures outlined were introduced to protect our people.
Together we face an extraordinary challenge. In these uncertain times, given the anxiety and stress people felt over the risk to their health and to their future economic outlook, I believe it was crucial that we did all we could to reassure citizens. We acted fast so as not to create a heightened sense of fear and unease in communities. We may not have got and we did not get everything perfect, but I believe much of what we did was good. We have shown again that this country can rise to significant challenges and that its people can and do support each other at a time of great need. In doing so we have laid a strong foundation from which to recover from this crisis.