RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- President Donald Trump signed another coronavirus relief package more than one week ago but Virginians relying on newly extended unemployment programs still aren’t getting paid.
The Virginia Employment Commission isn’t giving a specific timeline for when weekly payments under the “Continued Assistance to Unemployed Workers Act of 2020” will begin but one labor law expert estimates it could take several weeks.
Meanwhile, confusion is arising as many unemployed Virginians attempt to file for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Some report seeing notifications like this, saying they have no available weeks.
PEUC and PUA were extended for 11 weeks (through March 13, 2021) in the relief bill passed by Congress just before Christmas. The bill also restored the $300 weekly boost adding to state benefits, a provision referred to as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC).
The package was signed by President Trump on Dec. 27, one day after PEUC and PUA expired.
Before additional funding for any of those programs can be released by the VEC, the state first needs to implement the new law based on additional guidance from the federal government.
“No weeks can be filed for those two programs until the new legislation is implemented,” VEC Spokesperson Joyce Fogg told 8News in a text on Monday. “Both of those programs have ended until new legislation is implemented.”
National Employment Law Project Senior Researcher Michele Evermore said Virginians may have to wait until mid-to-late January to start getting these extended payments retroactively.
“It takes a while to program these new benefits into the computer system so it may take a couple of weeks,” Evermore said.
Evermore said the way in which missed payments are made up will likely vary by state but one option is for them to be delivered in a lump sum.
Evermore said it normally takes months for the U.S. Department of Labor to craft regulations after a new law is passed. She said the agency is moving much faster during the pandemic, having already released three of what’s expected to be five sets of guidelines to states as of the end of December.
“It’s pretty impressive how quickly they’re moving,” Evermore said.
Evermore said this pay gap could’ve been avoided altogether if lawmakers would’ve acted with more urgency. She said she has been warning of this lag since the beginning of December, weeks before a bipartisan deal was ultimately reached.
“This anger is totally justified and there is no one person to blame. The real problem is that we don’t pay any attention to the unemployment system until there is a recession,” Evermore said. “Unemployment insurance agencies are dealing with unprecedented new claims on top of this completely neglected system. Having said that, Congress should’ve acted faster. The President should’ve signed the bill as soon as it got to his desk.”
The U.S. Department of Labor has yet to respond to various questions about the implementation timeline and guidelines of this new law, including whether claimants who had previously maxed out their benefits before the Dec. 26 sunset date would also be eligible for an additional 11 weeks of payments.
Evermore said claimants in this category should be eligible for more weeks under the new law but the VEC has yet to confirm that. Fogg said they’re still awaiting guidance from the DOL.