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W.Va. receiving thousands of unemployment claims

Photo Courtesy/WV National Guard A soldier in the West Virginia National Guard answers questions about unemployment compensation.

CHARLESTON — With thousands of claims for unemployment compensation pouring in, the state of West Virginia is processing applications and getting funds out as quickly as possible, according to the governor.

Gov. Jim Justice addressed concerns about unemployment during his Tuesday coronavirus briefing at the Capitol in Charleston.

According to Justice, WorkForce West Virginia processed more than 90,000 applications for unemployment compensation benefits in March, shattering all state records. The state normally processes as much as 5,000 applications per month, with 3,400 applications processed in an average March.

“We’re being overrun by them,” Justice said. “I appreciate all the good work (WorkForce West Virginia) is doing, but they were absolutely overwhelmed.”

Since the start of April, Justice said the state has received another 28,000 unemployment compensation applications. WorkForce West Virginia has three call centers in the state to process claims and answer phone calls. West Virginia University also is using its call center to help process claims and the West Virginia National Guard has supplied manpower to WorkForce West Virginia to clear the backlog.

“Taking an aspirin for cancer wasn’t going to help us. We had to make a real move,” Justice said. “I said whatever General Hoyer and Workforce believe that needs done, triple it. Because people at home are hurting and they’re worried about paying the power bill and everything else under the sun. We’re going to fix it.”

The staff of WorkForce West Virginia with help from the National Guard processed 28,500 applications Monday for more than $20 million in claims.

“We have folks from the National Guard…who are taking calls, helping with applications for unemployment compensation, fielding basic questions, and soon they’ll be processing unemployment claims,” said Scott Adkins, acting commissioner of WorkForce West Virginia, in a video presented during Tuesday’s briefing. “That’s allowed us to expand the capacity of WorkForce to accept that influx of unemployment claims.”

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the National Guard, said 520 guardsmen are on active duty in West Virginia, with 30 guardsmen supporting WorkForce West Virginia. Guardsman fielded 803 phone calls about unemployment compensation between midnight Monday and 7 a.m. Tuesday, he said.

Justice thanked the National Guard for stepping up.

“It’s just a perfect example of how we’re all pulling the rope together,” Justice said. “We’re all going to keep pulling the rope together and we’re going to get there.”

Justice also announced Tuesday that WorkForce West Virginia will begin distributing an additional $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation provided by the C.A.R.E.S. Act for eligible unemployment claimants. The act, passed by Congress last month, included an additional $600 per week payment to recipients of unemployment compensation for up to four months.

According to daily testing data released by the Department of Health and Human Resources, the state saw a jump of 67 new positive cases of the coronavirus since Monday – a 19 percent increase – bringing the total number of positive tests to 412, though the increase can be tied to an increase in testing. Total completed tests jumped from 9,940 Monday to 12,059 Tuesday. The number of positive cases compared to total testing is 3.4 percent while the national percentage is 18.8 percent.

“For those of you seeing the number of positive tests rise, that’s correct, but what’s happening here is there is a significant amount of more testing that is going on,” Justice said. “We expected the positives to rise, but the good part about it is the positives versus the total tests are still even decreasing, which is great news.”

Justice said the state will receive an order of 500,000 surgical masks and 500,000 gowns in the next seven days for healthcare workers and first-responders. Justice credited Jeff Kessler, a former president of the sate Senate and a native of Glen Dale, for helping connect the state to a supplier.

“Jeff, we really appreciate the call,” Justice said. “We got with our people and the (National Guard) and they did great work. The order is placed, and we hope to have 500,000 surgical masks and 500,000 gowns real soon.”

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