With the coronavirus forcing the closure of schools, events and some businesses, state officials announced new measures on Tuesday aimed at helping Virginia residents who are being laid off from their jobs or have no choice but to stay at home.
Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday he has directed the commissioner of the Virginia Employment Commission to waive the one-week waiting period for people to receive unemployment benefits.
Also, the normal requirement for those receiving unemployment benefits must conduct two job searches a week is being waived.
In addition, the governor’s office said Virginians may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits if:
• Their employer needs to “temporarily slow or cease operations due to the coronavirus outbreak.”
• They have been issued a notice to self-quarantine by a medical or public health official and are not receiving paid sick or medical leave from their employer.
• They must stay home to care for an ill family member and are not receiving paid family medical leave from their employer.
Also, Northam’s office said it is directing the Virginia Employment Commission to give affected individuals “special consideration on deadlines, mandatory re-employment appointments, and work search requirements.”
A spokeswoman for the Virginia Employment Commission said Tuesday that the agency does not have any information on the number of unemployment benefit claims being filed now as a result of coronavirus-related job losses, but an increase is expected.
“We are expecting there will be an increase in calls for benefits,” said Joyce Fogg, a spokeswoman for the VEC. “All of our local offices are still answering phones, but they don’t take the claims. We are encouraging people to file by a toll-free number or the internet.”
“Our staff will look at each application individually,” Fogg said.
The VEC has closed its offices to visitors.
The Virginia Employment Commission’s customer contact center is at (866) 832-2363 and operates Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Claims can also be filed online at www.vec.virginia.gov/unemployed.
Virginia’s unemployment rate was 2.7 percent in January, the most recent month for which government data is available.
The jobless rate is expected to rise, especially for late March and April now that coronavirus-related job cuts are spreading, economists said.
“Certainly, the coronavirus is going to have an impact on those numbers,” said Christine Chmura, CEO and chief economist at Chmura Economics and Analytics, a economics research firm in Richmond.
Chmura estimated that the jobless rate could go 3.6 percent in the state even if just 10% of all the people who work in food preparation and 10 percent of people who work in the entertainment and sports industry in Virginia are laid off.
“The labor market is very tight right now, which is a positive going into this crisis, because businesses will probably try to hold onto their workers as hard as possible,” Chmura said.