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Unemployment claims in Virginia decline, questions about process continue to rise

(NBC15)
Published: May. 7, 2020 at 7:26 PM EDT
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There were

last week, which is a 17.7 percent decline from the previous week.

"While our unemployment daily filings have started to decrease, we're still at historic levels," William Walton, the Unemployment Insurance Director for the

, said.

Since mid-March, more than 600,000 people have filed unemployment insurance claims around the commonwealth, of

across the country.

"We have increased capacity, really at every level of the agency, the call center, we're increasing staff. We have an auxiliary call center that we've stood up," Walton said.

The Virginia Employment Commission is working to be more accessible to people with questions about the claims process, but many people are still having trouble getting in touch with a real person.

For the past several weeks, many people with a questions about filing their claims online or even unsure about how to stop receiving benefits have called the VEC, gone through several prompts, and ultimately gotten a message letting them to know to use the VEC website before the phone line hangs up without giving a chance to even be put on hold.

Walton said to expect long wait times but to keep calling until you do get someone. He said no matter what, though, you should make sure you have at least filed your initial claim, which they highly encourage doing

.

"Answer to the best of your ability, but still file the claim so that it can be processed, and if there is an issue, we will notify you about that," Walton said.

If you do not submit the claim, you could lose out on a week of eligibility, meaning you would not get paid.

After filing the initial claim online, Walton said you should follow up each week for your continued claim by calling (800) 897-5630. Walton said that should be a more seamless process.

"Keep that weekly claims series active for as long as the person is unemployed, so that ultimately if there is an issue preventing payment, once it's resolved, those weeks can be released," Walton said.

Some have also raised questions about the job search part of the application that asks you to list which employers you have contacted that week, given that Gov. Northam and the VEC itself has said that requirement has been waived right now.

Walton said an active job search is normally required for the claims process, but it is not required right now during the pandemic. So, basically, you can ignore that part for now.

"We will be reengaging the requirement conduct on active work search as a condition of receiving unemployment insurance," Walton said.

He said that should be coming in the near future, but they will be sure to communicate those changes so the public is aware.

More than 100,000 have filed for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which is part of the

and started in April.

"That program covers those who are not covered by the traditional unemployment insurance program, those folks that are self-employed for example," Walton said.

Benefits for PUA have started being paid in Virginia this week.

To file for that program, Walton suggests first filing a claim for the unemployment insurance program.

"And if they're not eligible because they're not in covered employment, we're going to then notify them that they can proceed with filing the pandemic unemployment assistance application," Walton said.

A few states have noted they are beginning to run out of money due to unemployment programs, but Walton said Virginia has not gotten to that point.

"Those trust funds, including in Virginia, are being drawn from at very high rates, but we have not run out of money. Most of the money we are paying out are federally funded and do not come out of the trust fund," Walton said.

The program is typically limited to workers who were laid off or had their hours significantly reduced, which is still the case.

However, Gov. Northam has allowed the Commission to approve applications for the following individuals:

- People who are quarantined, either on their own initiative or at the direction of a medical official.

- Caring for a family member who is ill or under quarantine.

- Caring for a child whose school or day care was closed.

- The amount of money someone will receive each week, as a result of the unemployment claim, will vary. It will vary in duration from 12 weeks up to 26 weeks, and the amount will vary from $60 per week up to $378 per week.

Copyright 2020 WHSV/WDBJ7. All rights reserved.

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