Vt. officials send out $1,200 checks for unresolved unemployment claims

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont officials Monday mailed out thousands of $1,200 checks to individuals who still have not had their unemployment claims validated, but they say there are still nearly 2,000 claims that remain in limbo.

Even as the state makes progress on getting Vermonters their unemployment benefits, Richard Wood is among the COVID-19 jobless who remain leery about the labor department program's details.

"I'm positive the money is going to come through it's just how long is it going to take and why is it taking so long?" Wood said.

He was able to file his claim on Sunday afternoon. He's one of more than 32,000 Vermonters whose claims were cleared over the weekend. But he says he's still in the dark about what benefits he'll get.

"No word on how much, when. I mean, if I had to wait almost a month to get my claim processed, am I going to have to wait three to four weeks to get my first check?" Wood said.

Another 8,300 Vermonters whose claims are still pending, will instead get advance payments of $1,200 drawn directly from the state treasury as promised last week by Governor Phil Scott. Scott says most of those claims were held up by federal red tape.

"These very restrictive federal standards have made it difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with the demands this pandemic has placed on the system," Scott said.

But there are still about 2,000 claims that remain unresolved and those Vermonters are not getting benefits or checks. "These were, for us, issues we could not waive. There were concerns about legitimacy of claims and there's a variety of others, and we were not comfortable making payments," said Michael Harrington, the state's interim labor commissioner.

A Virginia-based call center will provide 50 more people to answer labor department phones. That means that 150 people are now answering the phones and 200 people are processing claims.

Governor Scott says these steps are good, but the state still has a lot of work in front of it. "We're not going to let up until everyone who is entitled to a check gets one," he said.

Richard Wood says many of the headaches could have been avoided if the state took these steps sooner. "It seemed like we could have had a jump on some of the problems that we're having right now a few weeks earlier and I don't think we would be in the boat we're in right now," he said.

The state is looking to introduce unemployment benefits to the self- employed by the end of the week, but cutting the federal red tape over the weekend could mean that Vermont loses out on some of the benefits. It's unclear right now how it will impact the new program.