Gov. Phil Scott helped put 8,300 checks in the mail Monday morning in an effort to clear a huge backlog of jobless claims that overwhelmed the state’s system.
The $1,200 checks were for people whose claims weren’t processed by the governor’s Saturday deadline. The Vermont Department of Labor said the claims were delayed after officials were unable to resolve issues that kept those individuals from receiving regular unemployment payments. The money for the checks comes from the state treasury.
Scott said the federal government’s standards made it impossible to keep up with the unprecedented rush of claims unleased by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put close to 80,000 Vermonters out of work.
Scott said that typically, the state would be investigating the claims delays while complying with federal guidelines. But these are not normal circumstances, he said
“We were forced to make a choice,” he said. “Allowing a cumbersome process to delay money desperately needed by Vermont families or find a way around it.”
The Department of Labor has added about 50 employees, plus 50 outside contractors, tripling the number of people answering phones at the department. Another 200 people are busy processing claims, the department said.
“Getting through on the phones was not the only obstacle,” Scott said, “which is why I directed the Department of Labor to clear tens of thousands of [cases], which have been holding up Vermonter’s benefits.”
The checks provide two weeks of federal benefits. They likely do not provide the full amount owed, but serve as an initial installment. Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said not all claims were approved due to questions about eligibility and other issues the department could not resolve.
“There were concerns about legitimacy of claims and there is a variety of others that we were not comfortable making payments,” said Harrington.
Department officials say they expect to launch the Unemployment Assistance Program by the end of this week. This will expand eligibility for jobless benefits to people who are self-employed and other workers that are normally ineligible.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.