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State: Relief on the way for Vermonters trying to file for unemployment

(WCAX)
Published: Mar. 31, 2020 at 6:12 PM EDT
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Vermonters filing for unemployment right now face long wait times and uncertainty. But state officials say additional relief is on the way. Our Calvin Cutler has an update.

We told you last week the state was working overtime to process claims. In the last week, they have processed around 15,000 claims, and that number is expected to rise.

The Department of Labor is asking everyone to be patient. That's what Angela Ribolini the owner of Orbit Hair Design in South Burlington is trying to do.

She was able to file a claim on Friday but received an error message on Sunday.

"I had to call the hotline. I tried calling Monday and today 150 times just getting a message saying I need to call back, and that's frustrating," Ribolini said.

She's one of many Vermonters still searching for answers from the Department of Labor about filing for unemployment. They're fielding about 1,500 calls a day with some calls lasting up to 10 minutes.

"As a state organization, we can't simply turn around and quadruple our staff overnight," Vt. Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said.

Harrington says the state is rolling out new ways people can apply online and over the phone. But he says accommodating thousands of recently laid off Vermonters takes time.

"We are trying to make those incremental steps to increase capacity, we put forms online and doing a number of other things to give people options," Harrington said.

Until then, state officials say when you file won't affect when you receive your benefits and that the state will backdate your claim to when you originally filed.

At the same time, more help is on the way from the feds. Under a new series of unemployment bills, the average weekly payout will increase by $600. Independent contractors will also be eligible.

But the state labor department still faces hurdles on how best to roll out the federal program.

"We've got to figure out what the mechanism is to adjust our processes to incorporate these additional benefits," Harrington said.

The state is still waiting on federal guidance but Harrington says we can see the federal benefits rolled out in the coming weeks. Until then, business owners such as Ribolini wait with uncertainty.

"We want to know that we're being taken care of at a state level so that the time that we're shut down as a business, we can use that time wisely in a positive manner," Ribolini said.

Again, the state is asking you to be patient and will backdate your claim to when you originally filed.

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