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Unemployment claims in state top 250,000

CHARLESTON — Claims for unemployment compensation benefits since the start of the coronavirus pandemic came in at five times the number of unemployment claims for all of 2019, according to WorkForce West Virginia.

Scott Adkins, acting commissioner of WorkForce West Virginia, gave an update Wednesday on unemployment claims during Gov. Jim Justice’s daily coronavirus briefing at the State Capitol Building.

According to WorkForce West Virginia, the agency received 250,000 unemployment claims over the last 10 weeks, roughly since the end of March — an average of 40,000 claims per month.

“To put that into perspective, all of 2019 we took 46,861, so in the past 10 weeks we’ve taken five times more claims than we did the entire year of 2019,” Adkins said.

According to Workforce, West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate jumped from 6.1 percent in March to 15.2 percent while the national unemployment rate was 14.7 percent.

Justice issued a series of executive orders starting March 17 when the state reported its first case of COVID-19. Justice ordered the closing of bars and restaurants except for carryout, delivery and curbside service, following by the closure of gyms and recreational facilities. By March 23, Justice issued an executive order requiring all non-essential businesses to close or have employees work from home.

In between March 17 and March 23, Justice issued an executive order requiring WorkForce West Virginia to provide unemployment benefits at the maximum level for people who lost their jobs, were furloughed or who had their hours reduced due to coronavirus shutdown orders. As part of the executive order, the one-week waiting period was waived, as was requirements that recipients look for new work.

The executive order remains in place until the state of emergency issued on March 16 is lifted.

According to Adkins, WorkForce has paid out more than $701 million dollars in unemployment compensation benefits during the 10-week period.

Still, there are people who continue to have issues either getting WorkForce to accept their application for unemployment benefits, making direct contact with WorkForce or receiving their benefits. Adkins said of the 250,000 people who have filed unemployment claims, there are issues with 5 percent of those claims.

Adkins said the adjudication process for those claims can take several weeks.

“There are about 5 percent of those 250,000 claims I mentioned earlier that have issues we’re having to work through,” Adkins said. “Those issues must be resolved before we can issue payment. I know there are folks still in the system, b1ut we’re working on those claims and I can assure you that the staff here at WorkForce and our partners are working very hard and diligently to resolve all of those issues.”

Adkins also warned about potential unemployment compensation fraud. One scheme being used is where scammers attempt to file unemployment claims on behalf of people who are still working.

Adkins called on the public to contact WorkForce if they received documents from WorkForce that they did not request.

“Because of the historic surge in unemployment claims, we’re seeing a lot more fraud happening,” Adkins said. “We’ve received several hundred claims for folks who actually didn’t file claims. People are stealing other folks’ identities and filing claims in their name.”

West Virginians receiving unemployment due to the coronavirus are also receiving an extra $600 per week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) as part of the C.A.R.E.S. Act. The $600 FPUC benefits end on July 25, and the state is having to borrow money for the U.S. Department of Labor to keep the state’s unemployment trust fund solvent. State officials believe that Congress will extend the FPUC program.

“The trust fund is nearing the end, but we’ve made arrangements working with the federal government to ensure the solvency of that trust fund, so that’s not going to be an issue,” Adkins said. “What Congress is looking at right now is an opportunity to extend (FPUC) either through the end of this year or maybe until the first quarter of next year.”

“We continue to wait on guidelines from the federal government,” Justice added. “From the standpoint of our unemployment fund and everything…we’re probably nearing, if we’re not already there, the exhaustion of that. But we’ll be able to backfill that with fed dollars. We already know we can do that in regard to that.”

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