6:00: Morning News

First unemployment payments including additional CARES cash distributed in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state distributed unemployment benefits to 29,000 state residents Tuesday that included an additional $600 a week in benefits from the CARES Act recently passed by Congress in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.

WorkForce West Virginia Acting Commissioner Scott Adkins unemployed residents would begin seeing the additional benefits in their accounts in the next few days.”If their weekly (unemployment) benefit is $250 they’ll receive a payment or a benefit of $850. So the $600 is an additional weekly benefit for anyone that is eligible for any unemployment program,” Adkins gave as an example on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

Under the CARES Act, the additional $600 weekly benefit will continue for up to 16 weeks or July 31, whichever comes first.

Adkins said benefits will now be going out daily from his office to the unemployed.

There are a number of workers who usually aren’t eligible for unemployment but now are under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program in the CARES Act. Adkins said WorkForce West Virginia only recently received federal guidance on how to process those claims.

“We received guidance at 8:55 p.m. Sunday so the programmers at Workforce are currently programming the state system so we can handle those guidelines,” Adkins said.

He added he hopes those claims that include gig workers; including independent contractors, temporary workers, those who are self-employed, day care workers, hair care workers and freelancers can begin to be processed by the end of the week.

More than 100,000 people have filed for unemployment in the Mountain State in the last three weeks and the overwhelming of the system has been well-documented. The state usually takes in anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 claims a month. Adkins said the decision by Gov. Jim Justice to involve the National Guard along with moving to a 24/7 operation should help eliminate the backlog.

“We’ve taken on several folks from the National Guard. We’re using the call center at WVU, the WVU Shared Services Center, so that we can increase capacity so we can answer the phones and at the same time we are training additional folks every day with the skills necessary to do the claims processing,” Adkins said.

The Guard is also helping update WorkForce West Virginia’s processing system, Adkins said.

“We’re working on a system that’s about 40-years-old and so it was never designed to handle this capacity. Now that being said, if you’re waiting in line to get a check that doesn’t mean anything to you and we realize that,” Adkins said. “We’re working 24/7 at the direction of Gov. Justice to try and get the backlog caught up.”

Adkins said his best advice is if the line is busy is to keep calling 1-800-252-JOBS and if you can’t log-on to the Workforce site to file your claim keep trying. He said the problem on the federal end of the filing equation has been at the Social Security Administration. He said each claimant’s Social Security number has to be verified with SSA before the claim can be finalized. He said that system has also been overloaded with 80,000 verification requests a day from across the U.S.

Adkins said it’s key to remember that all who file for unemployment will be made whole from the time they were laid off no matter how long it takes to process their claim. He said that could mean a large first check for many.

The state’s unemployment rate was just more than five percent before the pandemic hit. It’s now believed to be 15 percent or higher.

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