CHARLESTON — Unemployed West Virginians who lost their jobs prior to the pandemic crisis are also eligible for an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits, state officials emphasized this week.
WorkForce West Virginia announced Tuesday that residents who are eligible for regular unemployment benefits will start receiving the additional $600 a week now that the state implemented guidelines for administering federal coronavirus emergency benefits. The extra benefit will last through July 31, under current rules. Of course, people who lost jobs because of the coronavirus crisis are eligible, too.
Some recipients were confused about whether they were eligible.
“I thought it was for people that were unemployed because of the coronavirus,” said 43-year-old Philip Hart, of Dry Branch in Kanawha County. “I was already on unemployment, so I didn’t know if it applied to me. Then I thought maybe it was a one-time payment. I admit I was a little confused.”
WorkForce West Virginia officials said Wednesday that while every case is reviewed for eligibility, for the most part, if someone qualifies for unemployment benefits, they are eligible for the extra $600 in addition to regular state benefits.
Hart said he received the extra $600 in his account Wednesday morning. His regular unemployment benefit from the state is $138, meaning he received a total of $738 in unemployment compensation this week.
“This is a big relief,” Hart said. “I didn’t really feel comfortable not staying at home, like they want us to do, and having to look for work each week. I have an elderly mother-in-law living with us, and she has some underlying medical conditions that put her in the high-risk category regarding the virus.”
Enhanced benefits through the CARES Act are funded by the federal government and will be paid retroactively from the time an employee was separated from a job or otherwise became eligible, not from the time the application was submitted or approved, Scott Adkins, acting commissioner of WorkForce West Virginia, said Tuesday.
“We’re working round-the-clock to process an unprecedented amount of unemployment claims, and want folks to know that we are doing everything in our power to help people who have been hurt by the coronavirus,” Adkins said.
Enhanced unemployment benefits provided through the CARES Act also will be available to workers who normally don’t qualify for regular state unemployment benefits, such as independent contractors, the self-employed and gig workers, Adkins said.
Benefits include an additional $600 per week in addition to state unemployment benefits, and an additional 13 weeks of payments once someone has exhausted their benefits, Adkins said.
The maximum normal state unemployment benefit is $424 per week.
Over the weekend, Gov. Jim Justice announced that WorkForce West Virginia’s call line is open 24/7. Members of the West Virginia National Guard are helping the agency respond to callers with questions about the CARES Act and how to file an unemployment claim.
“I want to extend my thanks and appreciation to the men and women of the West Virginia National Guard for their support and to Governor Justice for directing us additional resources during this time,” Adkins said.
The fastest way to file for benefits is online at www.workforcewv.org.
A step-by-step guide to filing an initial claim may be found by going to the unemployment section of WorkForce’s website and then clicking the “Claimants” tab. Those who do not have internet access, have a disability requiring assistive technology or need further assistance should call 800-252-JOBS (5627).
“It is important to file a new claim immediately after employment ends,” Adkins said.
To file an initial claim, applications need to register as a job seeker at www.workforcewv.org. However, the state’s normal requirement that benefit recipients must actively seek a job has been waived until July 31 to be in line with distancing recommendations.
After filing an initial claim, a WorkForce West Virginia staff member will contact the applicant by email or by phone, Adkins added.
WorkForce West Virginia also advises that if someone’s unemployment benefits are due to run out before July 31, the person can refile for an extension of benefits until July 31.
For more information about filing for unemployment and other WorkForce West Virginia services and programs, visit www.workforcewv.org.
For more information about COVID-19 prevention and more, call the state’s toll-free hotline at 800-887-4304 or visit coronavirus.wv.gov.