The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) administers the unemployment compensation program for the Commonwealth and has received an unprecedented number of unemployment claims. Since the beginning of the pandemic, VEC has received over 1.5 million claims, a ten times or an over 1000% increase from the previous year.
This surging demand has caused significant delays in the approval and processing of unemployment claims in Virginia. It has also meant ongoing issues with rolling out the 2021 extensions to the enhanced unemployment programs outlined below. You can see further feedback in the 1000+ comment forum below.
At this stage as the VEC updates it systems (VUIS) any new claims or appeals for past claims must be directed to the Customer Call Center at 1-866-832-2363. Staff in the Administrative Law Division may only discuss procedural matters concerning a pending appeal case or how to file an appeal.
End of Federal Enhanced Benefits in Virginia (PUA, PEUC, $300 FPUC and $100 MEUC)
The VEC has confirmed that claimants on the PEUC, PUA, MEUC and FPUC programs will file/certify for benefits for the last time covering the week ending September 4, 2021. Since the beginning of these programs, the VEC has issued over $14 Billion in benefits.
Any active claims, with or without remaining balances, will expire after this date and any weeks after Sep 5th will NOT be paid. The only exception are retroactive payments for validated claims after a successful determination or appeal.
While there has been a lot of discussion around extending pandemic unemployment benefits, the Biden administration has confirmed (see video) that states will have to use already allocated stimulus funding to expand or extend traditional state unemployment programs. The VEC has not indicated that is planning to do so at this stage, but I will post updates if things change.
Some claimants may be eligible for State Extended Benefits (SEB), but after September 4th all claimants must have a regular UI claim to continue receiving benefits. Also see the VEC website for other support and benefit programs.
Work Search Requirements Causing Benefit Payment Issues
Over the last few months many claimants have reported that their UI benefits have stopped, particularly since the VEC reinstated work search requirements, which their antiquated systems have struggled to process (especially for PUA claims). This is despite eligible claimants applying for jobs and reporting this on their weekly claims. The Benefit Year End Date (BYE), discussed in earlier updates below, does not seem to be the cause of the issue in most cases.
Governor Northam had asked claimants to be patient, despite Virginia being ranked among the worst states in paying claims, but this is not of much help to the many jobless workers who rely on federal and state unemployment benefits to pay for essentials and make ends meet.
Coupled with ongoing fraudulent claims many claimants have been caught in a web of automated call systems and process bureaucracy as their claims go unpaid. Getting hold of a live VEC agent has also been a challenge with many reporting hours of hold times and/or getting an untrained/new agent who is not able to help them (see some VEC contact options)
While the VEC, in a recent court hearing, said it had made significant progress in resolving thousands of unpaid and retroactive claims, it is estimated over 50,000 claims are still pending for review. Because a lot of these claims have to be checked manually so it could unfortunately take several months for eligible claimants to get paid – which the VEC has to legally to so. I will post updates as I get them and check the comments forum below for more information.
Reminder for Work Search requirements (Required for claims to be paid)
You must register online to get paid or at a workforce services agency if you live outside Virginia. Beginning the week of May 30th, you must actively make at least two job contacts each week and report the details online or over the phone: For regular UI claimants, online at www.getgov2go.com or over the phone at 800-897-5630; For PUA claimants, you must call 866-832-2363 and follow the prompts to file your weekly claim
Is Virginia Ending ALL Pandemic Unemployment Benefits Early – Including $300 Supplementary Weekly Benefit
Following recent job reports and state wide labor shortages, many states have announced an end to participation in one or more federally funded pandemic unemployment programs in the coming weeks. This covers the termination of PUA, PEUC, $300 FPUC and $100 MEUC programs extended under the Biden ARPA stimulus bill discussed below.
The argument is that these generous unemployment benefits deter lower income workers (who make less than $15 p/hour) from returning to work. Opponents argue that the reason people are not going back to work is due to fears around getting COVID, child care and schooling constraints.
At this stage the VEC has not received any instructions from the Governor to end the unemployment programs early, but given the worker shortage in the state there will likely be a lot of pressure from businesses to end these programs earlier than planned, as was the case in neighboring Maryland. I’ll update as more information comes to hand.
Biden Stimulus Bill Extensions
Under President Biden’s $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan (ARP), enhanced unemployment benefits have been extended until September 6th (week ending September 4th in Virginia). This includes further extensions to the PUA program, PEUC program, $300 weekly payment under the FPUC program and $100 Mixed Earners (MEUC) program. There were also provisions in the Biden Stimulus package for Unemployment tax breaks on the first $10,200 of benefits received in 2020.
VA VEC Latest News and Status on PUA, PEUC and $300 Weekly Payment or Claim Issues and System Updates
The VEC has provided the following updates for claimants around the extended coverage period funded under the Biden ARP stimulus bill:
- You do not need to reapply for the extended benefit weeks. The VEC will automatically enroll you in the appropriate program extension (PUA or PEUC).
- However, if you are notified that your benefit year (BYE) has ended you must file a new traditional claim (UI) to establish a new benefit year.
- You should continue to file your weekly claim for benefits as you normally would as long as you remain unemployed.
- You will not need to contact the VEC in order for these program extensions to take effect. The VEC will mail you a Monetary determination that reflects the increase in eligibility.
- The additional weekly payment of $300 under the FPUC program will be extended through September 4, 2021 as well.
- The Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) program which provides $100 extra per week to non PUA recipients who have had mixed income (W2 and 1099) will be available from April 26, 2021.
There are however some known issues many claimants are reporting per the comments forum below this article. This includes:
- PUA payment delays due to additional documentation requirements per updated DOL guidelines or proof of ongoing job searches as part of reinstatement of the weekly work search requirement.
- Its still hard to get through to someone at the VEC for those whose benefits have lapsed. Keep trying as in some instances you will need a VEC rep to manually progress your claim or to provide additional information to verify your claim.
- Certifying over the app has caused some issues in which case calling to certify (1 866 832-2363) has provided a workaround.
- Many are reporting scam emails to potential claimants asking for personal and private data. Do not share this online or to people you don’t know. Only go to the VEC site to load documents and provide required certifications. If an email address doesn’t end in vec.virginia.gov, it’s not a real VEC address!
- While the PUA and PEUC extensions are now available till Sep 4th, many people are reporting a lapse in benefits, which is mainly due to the need to provide additional documentation (PUA claimants) or not filing a new claim after you have reached your benefit year end.
- Some people who returned to work and stopped claiming benefits, but are now unemployed again are having a tough time reinstating claim due to manual checks the VEC has to do, which is taking more time than expected. Retroactive payments will be made for eligible weeks but this is a known issue.
I will post ongoing updates as they are released so stay tuned via the options below.
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 27th, 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 latest VA VEC payment dates in this video and in the commentary below. Also scroll to the end of the article where some helpful readers have provided comments on working through challenges with unemployment claims and getting through to the VEC and talking to a live agent.
2021 PEUC and PUA programs extension – Reinstatement and Reapplying for benefits
(Feb 17th, 2021 update) The PUA program eleven-week extension is now showing up for most claimants in line with the VEC update below. As a result existing claimants can certify and should start getting payments, including retroactive payments, in early February. New PUA applications are also being accepted. For those who have yet to receive their payment it is like due to some issues with your claim that may need manual processing (e.g. flagged for fraud or additional wage evidence), which the VEC is working through and sending notices to impacted claimants.
The PEUC program 11-week updates have now been rolled out for those who exhausted their benefits and for new claimants. If you have exhausted the original 13 weeks of benefits under the PEUC program you can then be considered for an additional 11 weeks of extended benefits under the CAA COVID relief bill. After several weeks of delay the VEC finally announced the rollout of the extended PEUC weeks (PEUC 2.0) in two different stages based on claimant group as follows:
Group I – PEUC claimants who have exhausted their initial 13-week benefit and have claimed weeks through 12/26/20 will have the additional 11 weeks automatically added to their claim and should not file a new claim. They should continue filing weekly claims. Payment for weeks claimed beginning with the week ending 01/02/21 will be automatically released from 02/09/21 and customers should receive money (including retroactive payments as well hopefully) as early as Thursday 2/11/21.
Group II – PEUC claimants who are not able to file a weekly claim must file a new PEUC 2021 claim. The application is not available via going to getgov2go.com. New claimants can create an account online or by calling 1-866-832-2363. Those who file a new claim can start claiming weeks for payment once their application has been processed, usually in 1-2 business days. The extra $300 FPUC weekly payment will be also be paid for the 11-weeks of extra PEUC.
(PEUC claimants with remaining original 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 January 2nd, 2020. 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 can now claim the additional weeks.
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. This is NOW available to all people who can claim benefits, which are subject to the PUA and PEUC dates noted above.
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 (CARES Act) 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.