On May 5, 2020

80,000+ file for unemployment

Staff report

Before the Covid-19 surge prompted 80,000 people to file for unemployment starting in mid-March, about 500 claims came into the department each week. The department handled the phone calls associated with those claims using about 15 staff members.

The department now has 150 people handling calls, interim Department of Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said with about 250 total processing claims. In order to manage this excessive demand, other state agencies have had to chip in to help and the state has also had to hire a Virginia-based vendor called Maximus. Another 50 phone workers are available from Maximus if needed, Harrington said.

Governor Phil Scott said federal regulations were the primary reason for the backlog in claims, which had gone on for weeks. About 34,000 claimants had a combined 50,000 outstanding issues on their claims as April 17, Scott said.

Normally, the state is required to investigate every single issue – confirming that the claimant left a suitable job voluntarily, was fired for misconduct, or is otherwise ineligible for unemployment insurance – to make sure it is adhering to federal regulations regarding who can file for the benefit, the governor said.

“But these are not normal times,” Scott said. On April 17, Scott announced that anyone who was still stuck in the backlog of claims by Sunday would receive a check for $1,200, covering two weeks’ worth of federal benefits that started the week of March 29.

On Monday, April 20, the Vermont’s Department of Labor said that it cleared tens of thousands of backlogged unemployment insurance claims over the weekend. The state also made good on its promise to send checks of $1,200 to the remaining 8,384 Vermonters who still hadn’t been able to resolve problems with their claims — over $10 million.

The checks “serve as an initial installment” for claimants, the department said in the press release. People who receive them likely are owed more under the program, and they will eventually receive the full amount over the coming weeks, the DOL said.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program is an element of the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March that expands unemployment benefits to previously uncovered workers, including the self-employed or independent contractors. The reason the workers were previously uncovered by the unemployment fund is, unlike other industries/professions, they had not been required to contribute to the fund.

VDOL expected to be able to process these types of claims by April 24.

PUA benefits are calculated based on a claimant’s reported prior earnings. PUA will provide for lost wages, and claimants will also be eligible for the additional $600/week for each week of lost wages provided federally.

For additional PUA Program information, please visit the Department’s website at labor.vermont.gov. If you need assistance call the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance line at 877-660-7782.

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