Thousands of businesses shut down in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and have yet to reopen. Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits and federal subsidies have helped Virginians survive during this once-in-a-lifetime event. Knowing how much they'll receive in weekly payments and when they'll receive them can allow them to plan ahead while waiting to return to gainful employment. Extended benefits will run out in mid-March 2021, but will likely continue thanks to the work of Congress and state governments.
Defining UI Eligibility in Virginia
Those who have lost work through no fault of their own are eligible for UI benefits, according to the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). To receive benefits, applicants must meet state eligibility qualifications such as:
- Monetary determination: They must have made a certain amount of money during the state's predetermined base period, the first four of the five completed calendar quarters a person worked before applying. Applicants must have earned a minimum of $3,000 in two quarters and they must earn $18,900.01 over two quarters of the base period to qualify for the most weekly benefits.
- Separation: The VEC approves termination that occurred due to layoffs or a reduction in force. Fired employees or those who quit voluntarily don't typically get UI benefits, but there are some exceptions.
- Weekly requirements: Claimants must certify their claims every week for payments to continue.
Those applying for UI must send their personal information to the VEC. Incomplete information will cause a delay in the process. Claimants can apply for benefits on the VEC's website seven days a week or file their claim by contacting the VEC Customer Contact Center at 866-832-2363. They should include:
- Social Security number.
- Contact information of the business or businesses they worked for in the past 18 months and dates of employment.
- Union contact information, if applicable.
- Alien registration number, if applicable.
Virginia's Weekly Benefit Amount and Duration
Virginians who have lost work can receive payments) from $60 to $378 every week. Their benefits can last from 12 to 26 weeks, depending on the amount of wages they previously earned. If it is a time of high unemployment, as it is during the pandemic, there may be an extension and increase of benefits by the state or federal governments.
At the time of publication, there is an extension to UI benefits as a result of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which has expanded services to people who don't usually receive them, such as independent contractors through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Claims continue until March 13, 2021, but Congress hopes to expand these.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) has also been available as a result of the CARES Act. It created an extra 13-week extension for claimants whose benefits would have otherwise ended in 2020. This program also expires on March 13, 2021, but will likely continue. In March 2020, CARES Act beneficiaries received an extra $600 a week with their UI benefit payments. This payment ended on July 25, 2020. However, Congress may add a maximum of $400 to benefits in upcoming weeks.
Certifying Weekly Unemployment Insurance Benefits
After applying for UI, claimants must begin certifying for benefits no later than 28 days after the date of filing their initial applications. They face a waiting period of one week before receiving the first payment. Claim weeks start every Sunday and end after midnight on Saturday. This is the period in which the claimant can certify benefits for the previous week.
Claimants must certify for benefits each week until they find a job, their claim has run out or their benefit year ends. If they fail to file for weekly benefits on time and break the claim series, the VEC will not allow them to file again until they contact the VEC Customer Contact Center. A person can lose benefits for the time between the last week certified and the week they called to restart their claim unless they can show they had good cause for not filing.
Receiving Unemployment Insurance Program Payments
Claimants should receive UI payments within 14 calendar days after filing their weekly claim. Benefits are deposited on a state-issued debit card or through bank direct deposits. Benefits may not arrive on the same day each week. Claimants will not receive payments if there are eligibility or other claim issues, which the VEC will address before the claimant can continue getting benefits.
Sometimes a claimant fails to receive a payment through no fault of their own, such as when the VEC is in error. In that case, they should contact the VEC Customer Contact Center but wait a minimum of five days after requesting payment to do so, as it still may show up. The department will ask for the claimant's personal information, including their Social Security number. Depending on the reasons the payment wasn't processed, the claimant may have to refile.
Eligibility Requirements for UI Benefits
For claimants to continue receiving weekly unemployment benefits, they must meet several requirements when certifying their unemployment claim – most important is to record their job search. The VEC will ask for potential employer names; blind ads are not allowed. Other requirements include:
- Unemployment or underemployment by the applicant. They must not have any work or have less work and earn less than what they receive in benefits.
- Meeting the monetary requirements in the state's base period.
- Reporting all work and other money earned. This includes self-employment earnings as well as any vacation, severance and holiday pay. The claimant must report only gross wages.
- Being willing and available for work.
- Registering for employment through the Virginia Workforce Connection via its websites, www.vawc.virginia.gov or www.VaWorkConnect.com. Claimants can also register at VEC workforce centers and must register within five days of applying for benefits.
Applicants must continue to search for jobs as long as they receive benefits. They must personally apply for work each week and continue to record their job search in a timely manner. They must maintain a record of their job search and provide the employer's name and contact information when they certify for weekly benefits, including the date they contacted the employer. If an applicant refuses a job, they must report that information to the VEC.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.