Extended benefit payments for 20,000 Virginians on unemployment ending this week

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-About 20,000 Virginians on unemployment are left scrambling after finding out the payment of extended benefits (EB) will end after this week.

The U.S. Department of Labor only offers these benefits to states where the unemployment rate is more than 5 percent. Earlier this week, Virginia’s rate dropped to 4.6 percent, meaning those who have already exhausted traditional and emergency benefits could be left empty handed. 

With two family members at high risk for the coronavirus, Jessica Bartnek, 36, is scared to go back to work. Plus–with three kids learning virtually–she doesn’t see how she could. 

After being furloughed in March, Bartnek is now in the final weeks of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), a program providing up to 13 extra weeks of payments to those who have exhausted regular benefits. 

When her PEUC payments ran out, Bartnek had planned to apply for extended benefits until finding out on Monday that it was no longer an option. 

News that the program is ending after this week will also impact Bartnek’s fiancé, who is just two weeks into what he expected to be 13 EB payments. 

“How am I going to take care of my kids? How are we going to pay rent and utilities and all that stuff? All of that went through my mind. On top of dealing with virtual learning, it’s just a lot,” Bartnek said. “And you can’t get any answers from anyone at the VEC. It’s impossible to speak to somebody.”

Virginia Employment Commission Spokesperson Joyce Fogg said about 20,000 people are being impacted by the loss of this program. She said 15 other states have also fallen out of eligibility because of declining jobless rates. 

“If our rate goes back up then after a period of time it could be triggered back on and it would be started again,” Fogg said. 

In the meantime, Fogg said claimants can try to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) but that doesn’t mean they will qualify. The program is generally intended for people who wouldn’t normally be eligible for unemployment insurance like gig workers, freelancers and the self-employed. 

Fogg said those who plan to apply for PUA should wait until next week to do so. 

She also warned that PUA and PEUC are set to expire under the CARES Act on December 26th. That means, if Congress doesn’t come up with a solution, many more people could be left without a safety net. 

“I just pray they pass something soon,” Bartnek said. 

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