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Virginia Unemployment Claims Highest Since at Least 1987

Sign of Virginia Employment Commission
Virginia Employment Commission headquarters in downtown Richmond. VEC has closed its offices across the state (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Claims for unemployment insurance hit record highs this week in Virginia as the economy suffers under an unprecedented pandemic.

Over 30,000 people applied for unemployment insurance through 3 p.m. Thursday, according to Megan Healy, Gov. Ralph Northam’s chief workforce development adviser.

This week’s figures top any weekly total since at least 1987, the oldest data available on the U.S. Department of Labor's website. Virginia averaged about 2,600 claims per week in 2019.

The state received over 16,000 claims on Thursday alone, up from 323 on Thursday of last week.

The Virginia Employment Commission’s website warned of “exceptionally long” phone waits and steered people to its online application. VEC offices across the state were closed to the public.

The VEC upgraded its server capacity and is commandeering a DMV call center in South Boston to help keep up with demand, Healy said at a press conference on Friday. VEC employees from other divisions have also been called in for mandatory overtime to help process the claims.

Applicants who have direct deposit could see a check within a week, Healy said at a press conference on Friday. She encouraged anyone who thinks they might be eligible to apply, saying constantly-evolving rules from the Department of Labor meant they might be retroactively granted benefits.

“If you think at all you can get unemployment, we want everyone to apply,” Healy said. “The rules change daily -- maybe hourly -- of who can get unemployment insurance. So if you are denied, we’re going to keep that data.”

On Tuesday, Northam loosened several rules around collecting unemployment. He waived a one-week waiting period to apply for benefits and encouraged people laid off because of COVID-19 to apply. Northam said people who are required to quarantine or care for sick family members, and who lack sick or family leave, may also be eligible.

Northam also waived a requirement that laid off workers show progress for seeking new work and scrapped mandatory appointments with the VEC.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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