Changes coming to Virginia's unemployment insurance due to CARES Act

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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV/WWBT) — The Virginia Employment Commission, which handles unemployment insurance claims for Virginia, says there are some changes coming, thanks to the federal CARES Act signed into law by President Trump.

(Cropped Photo: MGN Photo - Julie Chasen / MGN)

Increased unemployment benefits

According to the VEC, the legislation increases benefits for workers collecting unemployment insurance by $600 for all claims from March 29 until July 31.

In a statement, VEC says increased benefits for eligible workers under traditional unemployment insurance will start to be paid starting next week.

Under recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, Virginia officials are working to implement the changes to their system needed to make that possible.

Payments to all eligible claimants will be retroactive, according to VEC, and will be made automatically along with people's weekly claims.

New benefits for workers who were previously uncovered

Another change from the CARES Act is making more workers eligible for unemployment insurance than are traditionally able to apply.

That includes people who are self-employed.

They can now apply under the new federal program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

To be eligible for this new program, workers must first apply through traditional unemployment at www.vec.virginia.gov or www.vawc.virginia.gov.

The state is required to verify eligibility under traditional unemployment before allowing claimants to be considered for the new PUA program. If you are determined to be ineligible for traditional unemployment, you will be contacted by phone (text or voice message) on how to file the supplemental information to complete your claim under the new PUA program.

The VEC will announce more details on the start date of the PUA program later this week.

Issues with the unemployment application system

So far, the process of filing applications and claims in the Commonwealth hasn't been without issues.

“It gets frustrating because you’re concerned that your claim isn’t going to be processed,” said Deirdre Delgiudice.

Delgiudice has been out of work since March 20. She’s a hairdresser, a position that currently falls under the non-essential business category.

"I work for a good size company and we have a lot of customers who are anxious to come back in," Delgiudice said.

However, until that's allowed, Delgiudice has to file a weekly claim for unemployment benefits. She filed her application on March 24.

The problem she’s faced though, like several other people who contacted 12 On Your Side, is a question about weekly job searches.

"It still asks you in the questions whether you've been doing an active job search and have you posted your resume,” she said. “It asks for proof."

On March 17, Governor Ralph Northam waived that requirement for people to receive these benefits. However, it’s taking some time to get the website to match that change.

Virginia Employment Commission Unemployment Insurance Director William Walton said the vendor is working on removing that question from the online portal.

“Regardless of how they answer that, we are not going to place any issue on the claim,” he added. “It will process and be administered according to the rules in place.”

There is another way you can file your weekly claim.

“Our voice response system,” Walton said. “If they access their weekly claim through that avenue, that question is not asked at this point.”

To file your weekly claims by phone, you can call 1 (800) 897-5630.

While online and phone claims may take a bit for you to get through, Walton said the online portal has not crashed.

“Record numbers of people are getting through and being processed,” he said. “It is a capacity issue we’re dealing with but we are still up and running.”

If you haven't yet filed for unemployment, Walton urges residents to do it now and remember you have to re-file each week.

“File the first day after your last day,” he said. “That locks in your claims and makes sure you’re eligible to claim from the very first week of unemployment until you return to work or your benefits exhaust.”

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

However, Northam is now allowing 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.

With President Donald Trump’s signature on the CARES Act to help struggling Americans, people who currently aren’t able to receive unemployment benefits may be able to in the future.

“Take for instance a contractor, self-employed,” Walton said. “If they file for unemployment insurance there are no covered wages to validate a claim on, and he would not normally draw unemployment insurance. That still would be true here, but when we make that analysis that he does not qualify for the regular unemployment insurance program the CARES Act does provide for pandemic unemployment assistance. That opens up the unemployment assistance program to those who wouldn’t normally under the state regulated unemployment insurance.”

According to the Act, it would allocate $260 billion for emergency unemployment insurance:

- Weekly benefit increase of $600 for four months.
- Extra 13 weeks of coverage for people who have exhausted existing benefits.
- Also covers part-time, self-employed, gig economy workers.

Walton said they are working on figuring out how to incorporate that avenue into the system so Virginia residents can take advantage of that resource.

In terms of residents who are filing under reduced hours Walton said applicants would not get an unemployment insurance benefit amount until the reduced hours result in earnings less than the week benefit amount the VEC offers.

“For instance, if my weekly benefit amount through the VEC is $300, and my reduced hours from my employer are such that I’m earning over $300, there would be no net benefit in unemployment insurance,” Walton explained. “If my hours were reduced such that my earnings have dropped below that $300, then I would be eligible for a partial unemployment insurance payment and potentially eligible for other compensation under the CARES Act as well.”

For more information on filing for unemployment, click here.