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Jobless claims accelerate rapidly in Virginia due to virus

Virginians filing for unemployment report hours of wait times, issues with the unemployment system and problems receiving PINs to file weekly claims for benefits.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Nearly 115,000 Virginians filed for unemployment benefits last week. That more than doubles the already unprecedented figures from the previous week as the coronavirus continues to stall economic activity. 

The jobless claims over the last two weeks now equal those filed over a full three months during the worst stretch of the Great Recession more than a decade ago. 

In the month prior to impact from the coronavirus, jobless claims in Virginia averaged around 2,600 per week. 

The volume of claims is overwhelming the Virginia Employment Commission, which is charged with processing the claims. 

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“We are dealing with an unprecedented number of folks filing applications for unemployment insurance and seeking unemployment insurance benefits," said William Walton, VEC Unemployment Insurance Director.

In just two weeks, about 3.5 percent of working Virginians filed for unemployment.

“The speed at which this has happened is the huge shock and uncertainty that people are feeling," said Robert Mcnab, an economics professor at Old Dominion University.

VEC is adding staff to respond to the volume of claims.

“It is a task that had required me to marshal staff from every corner of my division and beyond to respond to this demand," Walton said.

Virginians filing for unemployment report hours of wait times, issues with the unemployment system and problems receiving PINs to file weekly claims for benefits. VEC is trying to automate part of the process.

“We’re going to start reaching out to folks by way of robocall technology, acknowledging right away that you’ve filed a claim," Walton said.

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Nationally, records are being shattered. Nearly 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits over the last two weeks.

“We’ve compressed a lot of the layoffs into two weeks, versus months," Mcnab said.

VEC is still trying to work out how to add federal unemployment benefits passed in the recent $2 trillion stimulus package.

“That’s the million-dollar question, right? As soon as we can," Walton said.

If delayed, Walton said benefits will be retroactively paid. Mcnab said the unemployment rate will likely exceed 10 percent this summer.