This article was last updated on January 14
[Updated with latest extensions and program payment information] The Virginia Employment Commission has received an unprecedented number of unemployment claims resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a spokesperson for the Commission, over 900,000 claims were filed in just over 4 months from mid-March through early July in 2020. In comparison, the Commission processed a similar number of claims over five years! Surging demand caused significant delays in the approval and processing of unemployment claims in Virginia. At the start of the pandemic, the existing call center was staffed with 86 employees. Since that time, an additional 400 employees have been hired to help with the excessive calls.
The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) administers the unemployment compensation program for the state. The VEC is responsible for processing unemployment compensation claims and paying out benefits. See below for details on the newly enhanced unemployment benefits available and how to file a claim.
2021 Unemployment Program Extensions Under COVID Relief Bill
The $900 billion COVID-19 relief package was passed into law on Dec. 27, 2020, which among several other pandemic relief measures extends and provides additional federal funding for enhanced unemployment benefits. This includes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and a reinstatement, but halving of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) Program which provides a $300 supplemental weekly unemployment payment. These programs have been funded and extended for 11 weeks, covering the weeks of December 26th, 2020 to March 14th, 2021. PEUC and PUA programs have a phase out period where existing claimants with remaining weeks/balances can file for benefits until the week ending April 10th, 2021. The first week people would be eligible for these payments under the extended coverage period would be the week ending January 2nd, 2021. You can see a summary of the estimated VA VEC payment dates in this video.
PEUC and PUA programs reinstatement and reapplying for benefits:
(PEUC claimants with remaining balances) If you did not exhaust your 13 weeks of PEUC prior to December 27th, 2020 you will be allowed to claim additional weeks. VEC has updated their UI benefit systems to allow for these changes. Individuals in this category should now be able to claim the remaining weeks beginning with the benefit week ending 1-2-21. Payments, including retroactive payments, will be made shortly after that.
(PUA claimants with remaining balances) If you did not exhaust your 39 weeks of PUA you will be allowed to claim additional weeks. The VEC is working on programming their benefit systems to allow for these changes and target date for implementation is 01/14/2021. The VEC will then notify claimants after this date to allow them to file/certify claims.
(PUA and PEUC claimants who exhausted benefits before 12/27/20) If you exhausted the original 13 weeks under PEUC or 39 weeks under the PUA program, you will then be considered for an additional 11 weeks of extended benefits under this legislation. The VEC is still working on programming state UI benefit systems to allow for these changes. The target date for implementation is 01/29/21. Additional UI extended benefits or the extra $300 FPUC payment cannot be paid until these changes are implemented.
Getting the $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) in Virginia
The program will add an additional $300 each week that you receive benefits under the following programs: regular Unemployment Insurance (UI), State Extended Benefits (EB), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). This additional benefit will be added to and retroactive to the week ending January 2, 2021. FPUC will be payable as long as you are eligible through benefit week ending March 14, 2021. The target date for implementation is 01/08/2021 for eligible UI and PEUC recipients (now implemented). The target date for implementation is 01/14/2021 for eligible PUA recipients..
Final guidelines on these programs and final eligibility (including additional document verification procedures to combat Fraud) have been issued by the Department of Labor and the VEC is rolling out these changes (see latest VEC update) Claimants with existing or expired claim balances should be aware of the following general guidelines:
- PUA and PEUC, FPUC will be automatically added to the claimants’ benefits if they are eligible for the weeks outlined in the new legislation.
- Claimants with weeks remaining in UI should continue to file weekly claims
- Claimants who will have additional weeks in UI and PUA or PEUC due to state provisions (where applicable) should watch their state agency UI portal or website for updates that will allow additional weeks to be filed (see potential scenarios where you need to take action to get benefits under the new extension)
- Claimants will be retroactively caught up on payments for all weeks they are eligible.
I will post additional updates as they are released by the VEC in coming days
Backlog of UI payments continue to be processed
After being threatened with a lawsuit, the VEC decided to pay unemployment benefits (from 12/10) to thousands of Virginians whose claims had previously been on hold because they were “awaiting a staff review.” State officials decided to go ahead and proactively pay the applicants while their claims make their way through the determination process.
But if the determination process finds the recipients were not due the money, they will have to pay it back, possibly along with interest and fees. So ensure your application is valid and you are eligible for program benefits.
Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) in Virginia – Payments now processing and being paid
The VEC has processed and made all weekly payments under the Lost Wages Assistance program (LWA). That started processing payments around October 16th and payments started hitting people’s bank accounts or debit cards from October 19th.
Amounts to qualified applicants were paid retroactively to August 1 for 6 weeks (up to $1800 in total if you qualified for all 6 weeks). Several readers have acknowledged the lack of information and delayed payment relative to other states as you can see in the comments below. The original payment date was Sep 30, but got changed several times by the VEC due to ongoing system programming issues. This is much later than other states. I will continue to post updates if new information comes to hand. See further details in the section below including a link to the VA LWA page.
Update from Bill on VEC issues – “So thanks to the assistance of all those on this site I was able to call the VEC [on October 13th] and actually speak to someone regarding the $300. If you are on UI, PEUC, or anything but PUA you will have to call or self certify for LWA to receive the extra $300 retro pay. Also I was told that the payments will start being processed on the 15th of October and the money will hit accounts Thursday the 15th, Friday the 16th or Monday the 19th just depending on your institution or payment method. October 15th is the processing date. So I was told not to panic if the money is not in on the 15th. I hope this helps y’all Virginians.”
COVID 19 Enhanced Benefits in Virginia
Under the CARES act, there are three types of federal unemployment assistance available:
• Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): expands eligibility for traditionally ineligible individuals for unemployment benefits, including independent contractors and self-employed individuals. Recipients may receive up to 39 weeks of benefit payments under this program.
• Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC): adds $600 per week and the regular benefits that recipients of Unemployment Insurance are entitled to receive; the benefit is retroactive to the week beginning March 29, 2020, and the program expired on July 31, 2020.
• Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): provides an additional 13 weeks of Unemployment benefits to regular unemployment insurance recipients.
If you have exhausted benefits paid through the regular unemployment and PEUC program, you may be entitled to receive up to 50% of the total amount received on your regular unemployment benefits through the Extended Benefit (EB) program. This program covers an additional 6 to 13 weeks of unemployment benefits, depending upon the number of weeks you were eligible for benefits on your original unemployment insurance claim.
VA Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) Payment Details and Schedule
In addition to the above enhanced benefits, you may be eligible for Lost Wage Assistance (LWA) if you are out of work due to COVID-19. If your weekly benefit payment is at least $100, and you were eligible for unemployment benefits, you may receive an additional $300 in assistance retroactive through weeks ending August 1, 2020 to September 5th, 2020. You do not need to file a separate request/application for LWA; however, you may need to self-certify to confirm that you are unemployed or partially unemployed because of COVID-19.
Applicants only need to self-certify that they are unemployed/partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by COVID-19. If they don’t self-certify by 10/15/20 they may not be eligible to receive any of the $300 due to FEMA funding limitations. See more details on the VA LWA page.
Because of VEC programming/IT issues, the LWA payment will be made after October 15th, well after the funding approval from FEMA (Sep 12th). So most likely the payment to VA residents eligible for this payment will be for the full amount they are eligible for (up to $1800) during the covered period.
Web and/or phone issues with accessing the Virginia Unemployment system
The VES has experienced a high volume of unemployment benefits claims filed since mid-March. Given its lack of staff, the VEC had significant delays in processing claims and answering incoming calls. Also, federal assistance received required changes to their online processing systems, which delayed the processing of claims and benefits. Although the VEC has hired additional personnel and completed updates to their claims processing systems, it is strongly encouraged that new claimants to apply online.
Initial Claims: If this is the first time that you are filing an unemployment claim under any of the federal or state programs available, you must first file an initial unemployment insurance claim to determine your eligibility and which programs may apply to you.
Initial claims are filed through the Virginia Workforce Connection here.
If you are eligible for regular unemployment benefits, you will receive a Monetary Determination Letter and PIN, typically within 7 to 10 business days of filing your initial claim. Your Monetary Determination letter lets you know what financial benefits you may possibly be eligible for; however, this may change based on the weekly claims you submit (addressed under Existing Claimants below).
If you receive a Monetary Determination letter stating that you are ineligible for regular unemployment benefits, you will then be directed via a phone call or text message to apply for PUA here.
Existing Claimants: Claimants receiving unemployment benefits due to the coronavirus pandemic must continue to certify every week to receive unemployment benefits under any state or federal program. This includes the additional FPUC $600/week benefit and the PUA program.
The extra $600/week compensation is retroactive to the week beginning on March 29 and ends on July 31. FPUC payments are automatically added to the weekly benefit payment.
Upon exhausting regular unemployment benefits, you must file a separate application to receive PEUC benefits.
Claimants that have exhausted both regular unemployment and PEUC benefits may be eligible for an additional 6 to 13 weeks of unemployment benefits under the Extended Benefits program. A separate application is required.
Filing an Initial Claim
You must file your initial unemployment claim through the Virginia Workforce Development here. You will need the following information to file your first claim.
- Social Security Number
- Personal mailing address and contact information
- Employment history for the past 18 months, including:
- Employers’ business names
- The physical address for each employer
- Telephone number
- First and the last date that you worked for each employer
- The reason you are no longer employed
- Alien Registration number and the date your work authorization expires if you are not a US citizen
- The name and local number of the union hall (if you obtain work through a union)
To file a new claim over the phone, the Customer Call Center is available at (866) 832-2363. Phone assistance is available from Monday-Friday 8:15 AM – 4:30 PM; Saturday 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM. You may also file an existing claim over the phone by calling (800) 897-5630.
To be eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits in Virginia, you must meet the following eligibility requirements during the pandemic:
- Unemployed or had a reduction in hours due to no fault of your own
- Earned enough wages to be eligible for unemployment benefits
Filing Weekly Claims
You must file a weekly claim to prove that you are still eligible and qualify for unemployment benefits. Your weekly claim cannot be filed until the end of the workweek, which is Saturday at midnight. You have up to 28 days after the end of each week that you are unemployed to file this weekly claim. Weekly claims can be filed online or over the phone.
If you don’t file your weekly claim within the required time, you will not be paid unemployment benefits for this week. You must call the VEC for assistance.
Existing claimants that are eligible for regular unemployment log in here to file their weekly claims.
Existing claimants who are eligible for PUA log in here to file their weekly claims.
To find out your claim’s status, call the Voice Response System at 800-897-5630, and choose “Claims and Benefits.”
If there is a problem with your claim that must be resolved before benefits can be paid or you have appealed a denial in benefits, you must still file a weekly claim online or over the phone. If it is determined that you are eligible or if you win your appeal, you will be paid these benefits retroactively. However, if you win the appeal but have not claimed benefits, you will not be paid for these weeks.
I filed my unemployment claim several weeks ago. Will I receive back pay once my claim is approved?
Over the past few months, the VEC has improved its telephone response and claim processing time. However, the large volume of unemployment claims will result in continued delays. If you are eligible to receive benefits but have not heard anything back yet, you will receive retroactive benefit payments up to the date that you were determined eligible as long as you filed your claims each week.
This also applies to the FPUC $600 per week additional benefit, which expired on July 31. If you have filed an unemployment claim before that date and are still awaiting a response regarding your eligibility for unemployment, you will receive retroactive payments for the back weeks of FPUC. This is the case even if the decision is not made until after the July 31 expiration date.
If you are not eligible for regular unemployment, you may collect benefits under the PUA program. To determine eligibility, you must file a new unemployment insurance claim if you have not already done so. Once your eligibility is determined, you may complete a separate PUA application. You should continue to file weekly certifications during this process. If you are eligible for PUA benefits for weeks that have already passed, you may recover back pay if you submitted weekly certifications.
Can I still collect unemployment benefits if my hours have been reduced?
Individuals who work reduced hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic may still be eligible to collect partial unemployment benefits if your gross earnings are less than the weekly benefit amount. You must continue to file your weekly certification and report any of your wages in the week they were earned, not received. Wages earned may reduce your unemployment benefit.
See additional FAQ from the Virginia Employment Commission about unemployment benefits.