The U.S. Department of Labor has directed Vermont to review the eligibility of thousands of Vermonters who received unemployment benefits over the last 13 months after the state deactivated some eligibility criteria to speed payments during the pandemic.
Jim Garner, acting administrator for the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Unemployment Insurance, said in an April 1 letter that Vermont’s practice of paying people before establishing a person’s eligibility creates “a substantial compliance issue” under federal law and the potential for significant overpayments. VTDigger first reported the story.
Vermont’s labor commissioner and congressional delegation have asked the federal government to reverse the order.
Commissioner Michael Harrington wrote in an April 9 letter to the U.S. Labor Secretary Martin Walsh that when unemployment claims soared at the start of the pandemic, Vermont’s unemployment program, “was massively ill-equipped to handle the initial surge,” because it was chronically underfunded by the federal government leading up to the pandemic.
The state took steps to relieve the pressure and expedite the process, including deactivating a “handful of eligibility triggers,” Harrington wrote. One of those was for people to attest that they are able and available to work. If the state hadn’t taken those steps, more than half the claims would have gone into the adjudications process and those people would not have gotten their first benefit check for six months or more, Harrington wrote.
“The fact that USDOL would suggest that a state revisit the eligibility of thousands of individuals who, through no fault of their own, were paid benefits, and require the state to issue redeterminations for claims that go back more than a year, potentially placing those individuals in a significant overpayment status, is unconscionable,” Harrington wrote in the letter.