4/20/20 UI Updates
The past couple weeks have been eventful in so many ways, but I would say that chief among all concerns have been problems in Vermont's unemployment insurance (UI) program. Every member of the VT Legislature has been fielding calls about the growing backlog and the associated frustration and anxiety. After several weeks, it seems that some progress is starting to be made so I wanted to provide some updates:
Progress over the Weekend
The Scott Administration announced this morning that the unemployment insurance backlog was reduced to about 8,000 applicants over the weekend. For comparison, this backlog was around 40,000 just a week ago. In total, there have been about 80,000 unemployment applications in the past month. The Governor also announced that the remaining 8,000 individuals in the backlog will receive a one time $1,200 payment from the State or Vermont, which is equal to two weeks of the Federal $600 UI "add-on" payment. This is a critical measure, since we know that some of those who have been waiting for weeks are truly out of money to pay their bills.
As we know, over the past 4 weeks there has been immense frustration for everyone and anyone involved in submitting or processing unemployment claims. But over the past week DOL employees seem to have turned the corner with help from employees at the Tax Department, the Agency of Human Services, the DMV, Green Mountain Power, Vermont Gas and Efficiency Vermont. With a huge effort they stepped up to answer calls and clear cases and it now seems the logjam is breaking. In the coming week, many more Vermonters will start to see relief from this critical program. Fortunately, it also seems likely that new UI claimants will not face the delays that initial claimants have experienced. This is important, because many individuals are only losing their jobs now, or on May 1st. If you are a UI applicant experiencing delays, or confusion with the process, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 802 373 6465 for assistance.
Differences in UI program during COVID-19
One major difference between the "normal" operation of the Vermont UI system and the current "Covid" operations, is eligibility. This is an important distinction to understand, since individuals who would not normally qualify for VT UI assistance are eligible for the Federal $600/week. For example, independent contractors and self-employed individuals do not typically pay into the VT UI system, but they are able to received the Federal benefit. The system for such individuals to make this claim through the VT DOL should be finalized this week. Updates are available here and supposedly the system will be live tomorrow, 4/21, with claims able to filed by Friday 4/24.
Another category of eligibility to be aware of, is individuals who had to leave their jobs because of COVID-19 but who were not laid-off in a traditional sense. For example, individuals who were infected or had an infected family member. Furthermore, if you have to stay home with your child because schools are closed then you are also eligible. And significantly, if you make a claim in one of these COVID-specific categories then the weekly payment comes entirely from the Federal fund, and not from the Vermont UI fund. It is still a tricky decision to leave a job to stay home and support your child's remote learning, but if you have made that decision you should make a UI claim!
Opportunities to Watch Online
During this unprecedented time, one silver lining is the ability to watch all House and Senate Committee proceedings on YouTube. Last week the House Appropriations Committee heard testimony from the Joint Fiscal Office about unemployment insurance, and how it works in concert with the CARES Act. I highly recommend watching the meeting linked here. There are some very concrete examples of how this system will work for difference kinds of workers, and some great questions from Committee members.