It Just Got Worse for the Unemployed

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

For those on this blog (including me) who have speculated as to why unemployed Virginians, who were getting up to $300 per week in unemployment benefits, could be behind on their rent, mortgage, and utility bills, here is one answer: They have not been getting that money since August 1.

The Virginian Pilot (and other media outlets) reports that the Virginia Employment Commission is still having trouble distributing the funds made available by President Trump’s decision to use FEMA balances after the Congressional authorization expired. At first, VEC said that there was sufficient funding for only three weeks, which would be paid retroactively in early September. Then it was six weeks’ worth of funding, but payment would be delayed until September 30. Now, the agency says there has been a programming problem and the target date is October 15, although there is some hope that the payments will go out sooner than that.

Not only are the payments being delayed, but applicants are facing obstacles in submitting their claims. This is especially true for “gig” workers, who were not eligible for unemployment benefits in the traditional system, but are eligible under federal pandemic rules.  The deadlines to file have been tight and the forms have been confusing, with insufficient direction on how to fill them out.

In fairness to VEC, having to add a new layer of funding (the supplement up to $300), as well as a new category of eligible persons (the “gig” workers), meant significant changes to a computer system that is old and which the agency is in the midst of replacing. Those types of changes are not easy or quick to make.

It is bad enough to be out of work through no fault of your own, but to have help that was promised be delayed  compounds the problem and frustration.

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26 responses to “It Just Got Worse for the Unemployed

  1. The problems were somewhat forgivable six months ago. Now there is no excuse. This is incompetence, pure and simple.

  2. Similarly, despite the state having set aside $50 million to ameliorate late rent payments, we haven’t seen any let-up in eviction proceedings. A logic question: How much of that $50 million has actually been paid out? How many renters have gotten the money? Is the Virginia Housing Authority (or whomever is administering the program) sufficiently staffed to dole out the funds?

    • From the last I read, not much of the $50 million had been spent. That is not surprising. It takes time to get these programs up and running and those eligible for it somehow have to be informed that it is available. That is why it is better to provide the funding directly to those who would need it, without the trappings of a grant. Another problem with this program is that it is a one-time payment. It does not do the unemployed any good in future months.

      • The folks that get assistance can also read the news, the back and forth over extending it, the problems with the agencies distributing it, etc and they not going to draw down on what they have until they have more in hand. The unemployment rate itself has improved quite a bit for white collar but it’s actually worse than the average figure being reported.

    • No. The budget language I’ve been writing about extends it, probably well into 2021.

      • Knowing that, and knowing the Governor is almost certain to approve the language in the Bill, why do you think the SCC rejected Mr. Northam’s request to extend the moratorium?

        It seems to me that it could lead to there being a few weeks in which people’s utilities can be cut off, followed by the moratorium being reinstated/extended, with utility providers then having to reestablish service for those they have just cut off. Rather than risk that potential fiasco it seems to me they’d be better off just extending the moratorium until it is known for certain whether or not the budget language is approved.

  3. I had a theory that because propane suppliers were not subject to any of this, many people who could not afford to heat their homes with propane this winter would instead use electric space heaters since the electricity would still be on even if they hadn’t paid for it. And that would result in more house fires this winter, especially if the house is old enough that the “penny behind the fuse” trick is applicable.

    • Natural gas is way more than propane. And folks in the rural will heat with wood – cheaper than electricit even:

      • If they have that option. First they need to have a wood burning stove. Second, they need to have a source of wood. Wood isn’t always free, especially if you only have a 1-2 acre lot without many trees on it. Out where I live, there are many 10+ acre lots without more than a handful of trees on them (there’s also no natural gas). If the wood is free, it’s because you’re expected to chop it up and haul it away, which some or even many people may not be able to do.

        • We have a few acres. We have more fallen trees that we could ever burn even when we had a wood stove. We give it away.

          We have dual-fuel – electric/propane/heat pump/fireplace.

          We try to not heat all rooms (which is what most do in Europe and Asia ). Unoccupied rooms are chilly.

          But natural gas is second (or first) to electricity because most dense areas do have natural gas and propane is for suburban and rural.

          But I agree with your theory – except would add wood to those electric heaters. We have house fires every winter due to wood.

      • Our Wintergreen house was propane. It was common in that area, with natural gas not available. But propone suppliers are not covered by any of this…you don’t pay, the tank does not get filled.

      • “And folks in the rural will heat with wood – cheaper than electricit even:”

        Plus, it keeps the fire departments employed.

        • Actually a very rural tradition – volunteer fire departments staffed by good oldl boys and gals from the hinterlands. And …….they’d actually help each other rebuild after the fires.

          • I know of one small city that had to disband their VFD and go fully career due to serious problems with corruption.

          • frying pan into the fire? government corruption? 😉

          • Yes, but PDs are NEVER corrupt…

          • “cooking the books” is a time-honored activity in volunteer fire departments!

            Our county first started moving to career when it became clear the Vols had no desire to become a “professional” operation.

            e.g. “free-lancing” was rampant at fires….

          • As I recall the treasurer of the VFD was busted for embezzling funds. I think the Washington Post even did a story on it at the time.

          • VFD and embezzling funds is almost an annual thing somewhere in Virginia!

            Even though we went to a mixed system of professionals and volunteers – the volunteers still go out and solicit donations even though it was less and less clear what that money was actually for and continued opposition to independent audits.

            They still get some county-supported/provided perks as I understand it.

            The conversion to a unified professional/volunteer system took more than a decade to accomplish. The Vols fought it every step of the way.

  4. I think a lot of people are just sitting on their ###. My wife and I went to Maine recently, driving through PA, NY, CT, MA, NH and, of course, Maine. We saw lots of help wanted signs. Even for relatively menial jobs, wages of $17 or higher were often seen. It may not be a career, but it’s above what the lefties think legislation is needed.

    • Many cannot really work until the schools are open, day care more available. The unemployment numbers are misleading, with millions not seeking work at this time because they really cannot. The pandemic crowd is going to keep the economy crushed so Biden can claim this is a Trump recession. Closed schools are the lynch pin. The deadlock on stimulus is also making the Dems ecstatic.

      • A new, large study of COVID in India, using contact tracing data, found that kids get infected and spread the disease to others.

        If Democrats are so ecstatic about the deadlock on the stimulus, why have they reduced their proposal by a third and passed another bill? If the deadlock is helping Democrats that much, you would think that McConnell, that supposed sage of the legislative process, would take the Democrats’ concessions and pass the bill immediately. After all, the two sides are not that far apart.

  5. Just so you don’t think Virginia’s problems are unique, I offer the following.

    This was a recent Orlando paper headline: “Florida signs $119M in contracts to fix troubled unemployment website, call center amid coronavirus fallout”. This was after spending $77million to build the flawed system just a few years ago.

    One sentence from the article said: “The DEO has been able to answer about 2% of calls, with an average wait time of 400 minutes, the contracts show”.

    • Almost none of these – and other government agencies like health departments were designed for the scope and scale of what they ended up dealing with.

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