$300 extra weekly benefits for unemployed Virginians delayed — again

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Additional funding for Virginians on unemployment is being delayed for a second time, partially due to a system outage that affected multiple state agencies earlier this week. 

President Donald Trump ordered the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program in early August to provide those who are eligible with up to 6 weeks of $300 dollar payments. There was no universal start-date laid out for the LWA but, in a FEMA memo, the U.S. Labor Department put the average at August 29, 2020.

The program was intended to be a temporary fix but, weeks later, Congress is still scrapping over the details of a coronavirus relief package. It’s still unclear if a longer term increase to unemployment benefits will pass before Election Day. 

The Virginia Employment Commission said they released the LWA funds on Thursday but the payments still have to be processed. VEC Spokesperson Joyce Fogg said those with direct deposit could receive the money by Thursday evening but others will have to wait between one to three business days. 

The additional delay–while slight–is the latest blow amid months of uncertainty for Virginians on unemployment. Single mother of two Callan Hisle, 31, said she has been living off of $158 dollars a week since the $600 federal supplement to state unemployment benefits expired at the end of July. 

Hisle said she endured serious financial hardship after a direct deposit issue prevented her from collecting unemployment for 17 weeks. The lump sum finally came through at the end of August but, after using that to catch up on missed bills, she’s once again struggling to make ends meet. 

“I bought groceries and I paid a bill and now I have $23 left to last me an entire week,” said Hisle. “It’s not enough to support a family of three.” 

Hisle has been anxiously waiting for the $1,800 retroactive payment from the LWA to keep her family afloat. 

“It is going to keep us housed and fed and safe at home,” Hisle said. 

The VEC was originally going to start LWA payments in late September but a programming error forced them to push that date back, according to Fogg. Fogg said LWA has different eligibility standards and required them to work with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, which they’re not used to doing. 

“Our staff were working hard to try to get it to happen earlier and it just didn’t sync. The programs didn’t mesh together,” Fogg said. 

After their original plan fell through, Fogg told 8News that the agency hoped to distribute the funds prior to October 15th. The VEC website advised that they expected to make payments beginning October 15th. 

According to Fogg, the agency hit some snags earlier this week that prompted the second delay. She said Monday was a federal bank holiday and, on Tuesday, a damaged fiber optic cable outside of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency caused several state websites to shut down for most of the work day. 

“When your computer system is down no checks get run, no money gets released, no money gets transferred,” Fogg said. 

While some claimants told 8News that they received an email notification about the second delay, others complained they were left in the dark. 

Hisle found the email buried in her inbox after 8News reached out to her. She said the agency should’ve used automated phone calls, texts or their app to alert people. 

“It was really annoying. I think there should’ve been more of an outreach to let people know,” Hisle said. 

Asked why the VEC didn’t notify claimants about the wait sooner, Fogg said their system had to be restored before they could post a banner on their website. Fogg said the agency also sent out a text at 2:43PM on Wednesday but multiple people who spoke to 8News on Thursday said they never received it. 

Asked why the VEC did not send a press release to notify the media about a possible delay in LWA payments following Tuesday’s outage, Fogg said, “Well, I mean, we released funds today. As we said, the funds would be released by October 15th.”

Earlier in that same interview, Fogg said their original goal was to release the funds on October 13th. “If that had happened then most would have it in their accounts by today,” Fogg said. 

Fogg assured Virginians that they are working hard to get the payments to people as soon as possible. 

“I know it has been frustrating for them. I answered zillions of emails this morning,” Fogg said. 

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