The number of people claiming the Pandemic Unemployment Payment has dipped below 400,000 for the first time this year, according to the latest figures from the Department of Social Protection.
385,211 recipients will receive the payment this week, at a cost of €114.1 million.
The total cost of the scheme launched on 16 March 2020 has now topped €7.4 billion.
The number of PUP recipients previously peaked at around 600,000 in May of last year during the first lockdown.
This week’s number of claimants does not include around 183,000 people on the Live Register at the end of March.
According to the Department, over 12,692 people closed their PUP accounts to return to work.
Construction accounted for the largest sectoral decrease in PUP claims – with a fall of 4,961.
However, the sectors that continue to display a high dependence on PUP supports remain Accommodation and Food Services (99,060) followed by Wholesale and Retail Trade (63,288) and Construction (37,372).
On a geographical basis, the counties with the highest PUP claims were Dublin (124,930) followed by Cork (37,941) and Galway (20,973).
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys described the fall in PUP claims below the 400,000 mark as a very positive development reflecting the start of the recovery phase from the pandemic.
“As restrictions are eased further over the coming weeks, tens of thousands more people will be in a position to close their PUP claims as their industries re-open and they return to work,” she said.
However, Ms Humphreys acknowledged that some sectors would be slower to re-open, and reiterated a government pledge to maintain supports for those in need of them.
“For persons who are not yet in a position to return to work, the PUP will continue to be paid at its current rates and will remain open to new entrants until June 30th,” she stated.
She said that at the end of May the government will set out the future of PUP after the end of June “taking account of the trajectory of the virus, progress on the vaccine roll out and the continued impact of the pandemic on the economy over the months ahead.”
“For that reason, there will be no cliff-edge and supports will not be suddenly withdrawn, but will be phased out in a gradual way in line with the re-opening of the economy.”