RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) –The Virginia Employment Commission launched its third unemployment assistance program in response to the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday night.
Virginians have filed more unemployment claims in about three months than the state saw throughout two years of the Great Recession in the late 2000’s. The unprecedented amount of applications has overburdened the VEC, at times making it difficult for them to process more complicated claims.
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program (PEUC) is different than the other options previously available to claimants. VEC Communications Manager Joyce Fogg said it specifically applies to people who were on traditional unemployment before the pandemic and have already exhausted the maximum amount of benefit weeks they were allocated for a 12 month period.
Fogg said about 41,000 Virginians are expected to be eligible. She said the VEC has been reaching out with voicemails and text messages encouraging people to apply.
The program applies to those whose benefit year ended on July 6, 2019 or after. The final payable week is December 26, 2020.
PEUC allows people to extend their benefits for half of the weeks they were originally approved for, according to Fogg.
“So if you were eligible for 26 weeks, which is the max, you would get 13 additional weeks now,” she said.
Fogg said those who have been keeping up with their claims should be paid as early as Tuesday. Fogg said they’ll be given a lump sum for weeks they may have missed since April 4, 2020.
She said those who haven’t kept their file active can still be compensated for this time period but it will likely take longer for them to get their money.
Fogg said applicants will be eligible for the $600 bonus to their normal benefits until that federal support expires on July 25th. After that, she said payments will return to pre-pandemic levels–a maximum of $378 weekly.
Asked why this program is just launching now–months after two others came online under the CARES Act–Fogg said, “It was a smaller number of people and we tried to get the most people paid as fast as we could.”
Fogg added that the guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor came out later than other programs.
Fogg said, in the first 12 hours of the new program, the VEC received 1,500 applications. She expects things to go smoothly since most of these people are already in the system and mainly have to verify their banking information.
“I have not had anyone calling at this point to say that the application is not going through,” she said.
Tamara Nottingham lost her job as a healthcare enrollment specialist in November of 2019. That same month, she said she was approved for traditional unemployment and received benefits without issue until the week of April 29th.
She said she has since been told that there was an issue with her initial claim and that she would need to call the VEC questions line to get it resolved.
“I’ve been calling every minute of the hour, of the day ever since the end of April,” Nottingham said. “I’m unable to reach anyone to resolve the matter. I’ve been two months without pay.”
Nottingham said when she called on Friday there were more than 200 people in queue waiting.
Nottingham fears this could prevent her from applying for an extension successfully–money she desperately needs to catch up on rent and bankruptcy payments.
“If I had my payments, my bills would be resolved and I could get back into the workforce and go about a normal life. With this, I feel like I’m just wasting time calling VEC,” Nottingham said.
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