MONTPELIER – With a backlog of over 50,000 claim issues preventing many Vermonters from receiving unemployment checks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Phil Scott announced new measures to speed up the process on Friday.
“”I’ve given the Department of Labor until Saturday night to clear the backlog of eligible claims, and if they don’t beginning on Sunday, I’ve authorized the Treasury to start writing 1200-dollar checks to send to anyone who’s still in need who are on that list,” Governor Scott said.
Michael Harrington, acting commissioner of the Vermont Department of Labor, expects 90 percent of claims will be resolved over the next few days by temporarily setting aside federal limits and guidance in the interest of getting money out quicker to those who have applied.
Scott also announced that small crews for outside construction and other trade jobs can return to work on April 20. Other solo, non-contact workers such as attorneys and realtors can also operate if specified safety requirements are met.
“Operations are limited to a maximum of two workers per location, who must maintain a six-foot distance and wear a cloth mask,” Gov. Scott said. “…Employees must stay home if showing any symptom of illness.”
Commercial retailers have also been given new guidance to re-open under restrictions similar to what restaurants are doing.
“These include requiring phone or online ordering with curbside pickup and delivery, and they must operate with a minimum number of employees as possible,” Scott said. “Farmers markets will be allowed to operate May 1, with guidelines being coordinated as we speak by the Agency of Agriculture.”
The state’s latest model shows the growth rate in COVID-19 cases has slowed dramatically as a result of social distancing measures.
“It is now safe to assume we have reached our peak for new confirmed cases in Vermont,” said Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation. “We are continuing on a more positive projection than we anticipated, needing only about half as many resources as we projected just last week.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine had directed a working group to research antibody tests that indicate if an individual has COVID-19 immunity, but said Friday that they’re neither reliable nor accurate enough to use as an indicator.
“When it comes to criteria to open businesses, to allow people to return to work, things of that nature, we’ll continue to use public health practice and clinical data about individuals and exposure histories and what’s going on in the community more than we can rely on such testing,” Dr. Levine said.
Sunday, April 19 marks one month since Vermont’s first coronavirus death. Governor Scott announced that U.S. and state flags will fly at half staff on the nineteenth of every month for the remainder of 2020 in honor of all Vermonters who have died due to COVID-19.