Montpelier, Vt. – On Friday, Governor Phil Scott and the Vermont Department of Labor detailed efforts to clear tens of thousands of claim issues that are holding up Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits to Vermonters.
As of Thursday, the State had identified over 34,000 unemployment insurance claims, which combined, had over 50,000 stop-payment issues associated with them. The Department of Labor and the Agency of Digital Services were able to identify multiple approaches to clearing as many issues as possible so that payments could be processed. By Saturday afternoon, these efforts had resulted in an additional 20,000 claimants having their claims processed.
“Under normal circumstances, it is these issues that ensure the State’s UI program is adhering to federal regulations. However, given the overwhelming demand on the system, being able to provide timely claims processing while meeting all federal standards became virtually impossible. Ultimately, we needed to put people over process and get people their benefits,” said Michael Harrington, Interim Commissioner for the Department of Labor.
As of Sunday, nearly 32,000 claim issues had been cleared, allowing claimants to proceed with filing a weekly claim and start collecting benefits.
For the remaining eligible claimants (8,384 people) that did not have issues cleared, Governor Scott asked the Treasury to issue payments to them in the amount of $1,200. These checks were processed over the weekend and will be mailed out to claimants on Monday, April 20.
Checks provided to claimants include two-weeks of federal benefits ($600 per week), which a claimant would have received starting the week of March 29. This delay can be attributed to the processing of claims under stringent federal processes.
Claimants should be aware that checks likely do not provide the full amount owed but serve as an initial installment. Claimants will receive the full benefit over the coming weeks as part of the regular processing of claims by the Department.
The unemployment insurance program is both federally funded, as well as federally regulated. The lack of federal flexibility has exacerbated an already complicated and cumbersome program. While the State is eligible for additional federal unemployment benefits for qualified Vermonters, the ability to get these benefits to claimants in a timely manner was not possible under the immense requirements set by the federal government.
Given that payments are being expedited, the Department of Labor will implement post-payment quality control measures to ensure program integrity is maintained.
In addition to these efforts, the Department expects to launch the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program by the end of the week. This program will allow self-employed individuals, and others not eligible for general UI, to receive benefits. Updates on the PUA program are being posted online, as well as through the PUA Hotline (877-660-7782).
Also beginning this week, the Department will add an additional UI call center to be managed by the vendor, Maximus. Having done work with the state since the mid ‘90s, Maximus will provide 50 new agents to answer calls, with an additional 20 agents on standby. This will be on top of an additional 50 state staff that will also be added next week, bringing the total number of staff on the phone lines to more than 150, and more than 200 in total processing claims.
More information about Unemployment Insurance and the federal benefit programs can be found online at labor.vermont.gov.