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Unemployment Insurance Questions Answered

The CARES Act – the economic relief bill signed into law provides much-needed temporary support for American workers impacted by COVID-19. It dedicates $250 billion to give workers more access to unemployment benefits during this public health emergency.

  • Creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
  • Expands coverage to more workers, including self-employed, contractors, and furloughed workers.
  • Increases by $600/week Americans’ unemployment benefits for the next 4 months.
  • Makes available 13 additional weeks of unemployment for those who need it.
  • Waives the normal one-week waiting period.
  • Includes funding to offset 50% of the costs of state and local government and non-profits for cost of paying unemployment to their workers.
  • Supports short-time, work share programs as an alternative to layoffs.


Unemployment Insurance
The CARES Act allows for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits related to COVID-19, including when an employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19 preventing employees from coming to work; an individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and an individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member. Depending on your earnings, your benefit amount provided by the Virginia Employment Commission may range from a minimum of $60 per week for 12 weeks to a maximum of $378 a week for 26 weeks.  The CARES Act also provides an additional $600 per week on top of whatever a person would normally receive in their state – limited to the next 4 months (expires July 31, 2020).  You can also file due to a reduction in hours if your gross earnings are less than your weekly benefit amount. 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
The CARES Act also creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which will provide unemployment insurance benefits to those who are not covered by the regular/traditional Virginia Unemployment Insurance Program. These individuals may include those who are self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers, clergy and those working for religious organizations. In addition, states have policies in place to allow furloughed workers to receive unemployment benefits and part-time workers can receive partial benefits.  If you have applied for unemployment insurance and have been informed by the Virginia Employment Commission that you do not qualify for unemployment benefits (UI), you can apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. The Virginia Employment Commission will process the PUA application and will create a “monetary determination” as a result of this PUA claim and notify you of your benefit eligibility. The monetary determination confirms that you are not eligible for the regular/traditional Virginia state UI program. The VEC will begin making initial payment of PUA benefits in approximately two weeks, following the acceptance of the PUA application. 


Who is eligible for benefits?
The CARES Act allows for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits related to COVID-19 including when:

  • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
  • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

 Are self-employed and independent contractors eligible? 
Yes. Self-employed and independent contractors, like gig workers and Uber drivers, are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. This also covers workers laid off from churches and religious institutions who may not be eligible under the state’s program.

What about furloughed workers?
Yes. States have policies in place to allow furloughed workers to receive unemployment benefits and part-time workers can receive partial benefits. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program also helps workers stay connected to their employer by allowing unemployment benefits for workers who have a job but are unable to work or telework due to COVID-19-related reasons and are not receiving paid leave through their employer.

My hours have been reduced. Can I apply for unemployment compensation benefits?
You can file due to a reduction in hours. If your gross earnings are less than your weekly benefit amount.  Currently, the maximum weekly benefit amount in Virginia is $378. 

When should I file a claim for unemployment compensation benefits?
You should file your claim on-line (**preferred method) through Virginia Employment Commission at www.vec.virginia.gov after you have been out of work at least 1 full day.  If you do not have access to a computer, you can file your claim through our Customer Contact Center by calling 866-832-2363 Monday through Friday 8:15am – 4:30pm.  Your claim will be effective Sunday of the week in which you submit your on-line application or file through our Customer Contact Center.

What happens after I complete my unemployment insurance application?
Once your claim is processed by the VEC, you will receive three important documents. The Benefit Rights document explains eligibility requirements and what you need to do each week to claim your benefits. The Monetary Determination document shows how much money you may be eligible to receive. You will also receive a PIN. You need the PIN to claim weekly benefits and to make inquiries about your claim.

How much money will I qualify to receive?
Depending on your earnings, your benefit amount may range from a minimum of $60 per week for 12 weeks to a maximum of $378 a week for 26 weeks. (Refer to your Monetary Determination). The CARES Act provides federal funding for an additional 13 weeks for those who need it. Funding for this expires December 31, 2020. The CARES Act also provides an additional $600 per week on top of whatever a person would normally receive in their state – limited to the next 4 months (expires July 31, 2020). This will end up providing a higher than average wage replacement rate for low-wage workers.

How soon before I can expect a benefit payment?
Beginning with claims effective March 15, 2020, Governor Northam has directed that the one week waiting period and the requirement to conduct a weekly job search both be suspended for those receiving unemployment insurance benefits. If you are eligible for benefits, a payment should be processed shortly after you claim your first full week. You will need to refer to the Benefit Rights document for instructions on claiming weekly benefits.

Are unemployment benefits taxable and do they count as income?
Yes. Unemployment benefits are taxable income and they generally count as income when determining eligibility for public assistance programs.

How to File
If you are a worker who has been totally or partially separated from your job due to Coronavirus, please note that no claim for unemployment insurance may be filed or processed until an actual lay off from employment has occurred, or until there has been an actual reduction in hours.  When filing your claim for unemployment benefits, please be sure to check the reason for separation as Lack of Work/Lay off.  If you will be filing because of a reduction in hours, you will not receive benefits unless your gross earnings are less than your weekly benefit amount.


You may file a claim for unemployment insurance through this Website by clicking the link below to File a new claim for unemployment benefits or through our Customer Contact Center by calling 1-866-832-2363 Monday through Friday 8:30am – 4:30pm and between 9am and 1pm on Saturday (closed state holidays).  Once you have filed your initial claim, you must continue to file your weekly continuing claims either online or by using the automated voice response system at 1-800-897-5630.

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