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Virginia unemployment claims surge as thousands look for relief; national unemployment also rising

With closing, quarantines, and a struggling economy, a growing number of workers are losing their jobs and looking for help.

NORFOLK, Va. — The Virginia Employment Commission says it is receiving thousands of unemployment claims each day due to coronavirus impacts, up from a typical rate of hundreds per day and reflecting a national unemployment surge.

Workers seeking unemployment benefits are directed to file a claim on the VEC website, as offices are closed to the public.

On Thursday, the VEC unemployment claims phone number played this message: “Due to the impact of the coronavirus, we are experiencing extremely high call volume. As a result, wait times to speak with a representative will exceed 2 hours.”

Faith Gonse, an IHOP employee who said her hours were slashed to just one or two days a week, showed up to Virginia Career Works offices in Norfolk to see if she could get help with her claim.

“I guess so many people are trying to apply, I came down to check on it and see if there’s anyone who could help me," Gonse said. "There’s nobody there, the lights are off, the doors are locked, everything done over the phone or online.”

The rise in unemployment claims in Virginia coincides with a national surge. 

The U.S. Department of Labor says claims spiked by 70,000 last week to 281,000 - reaching the highest level since the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in September 2017.

Gonse said she knows she's not the only one losing her job, but she's looking for some relief.

“There’s been nothing coming in so bills aren’t able to be paid on time, it’s a struggle," Gonse said.

Tidewater Community College Professor of Business Administration Peter Shaw said he expects the current week's unemployment numbers to be even worse.

“This is without a doubt an unprecedented situation the state and country has never seen before and the worst is yet to come," Shaw said.

Shaw said a worst-case scenario could look like the Great Recession, and the personal impact is scary.

“Until I get the other job, how am I going to survive?" he asked. "Pay rent, mortgage, groceries and so forth.”

Gonse knows that concern. She works Friday, but after that she doesn't know what will come next.

“I’m sure I share the same frustrations as everybody else, I’m probably not the worst off," Gonse said. "But I’m not the only one, it’s the whole country right now.”

Governor Ralph Northam's office released a FAQ website to help workers dealing with issues related to coronavirus impacts. 

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