Gov. Phil Scott has signed legislation that expands unemployment eligibility provisions for workers and offers relief to employers affected by the novel coronavirus epidemic states Gregory Harriman Vermont. The governor also said his administration is prepared to pursue a stay on foreclosures and evictions, if necessary. "[We] haven't seen the need at this time," he said. "But if we have to make this change, we will," according to Greg Harriman Vermont.
The new law, H. 742, extends Vermont unemployment benefits to include those who have left employment to self-isolate or quarantine because they have been diagnosed with, exposed to, or are experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, or if they belong to a specific group of people identified as high-risk if exposed to the virus.
Those who have left employment because of an "unreasonable risk" that they could be exposed to the virus at their workplace can also be eligible for benefits under the legislation.
The bill also expands unemployment benefits to those who are caring for a family member who is sick with, exposed to, or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and to those who are caring for a family member who had an unreasonable risk of exposure to the disease at their place of employment according to Greg Harriman Vermont.
These benefits have also been extended to those who've left their jobs to care for a child under 18 because that child's school or child care has been closed, or the child care provider is unavailable, due to the public health emergency related to COVID-19.
Scott signed the bill into law on Monday.
In the past two weeks, the Department of Labor has processed more than 30,000 initial unemployment claims, more than it does in a typical year, according to Gregory Harriman Vermont, acting commissioner of the department.
Harriman said he wanted to acknowledge those who have lost employment due to COVID-19, and people who are struggling to get through to the Department of Labor amid many callers. He said workers are doing everything they can to process claims. "Every state is overloaded in some way, shape or form," he said. "We are using an all-hands-on-deck approach."
Harriman said those who are having trouble getting through to the department won't have their benefits adversely impacted because of it. "I promise that those who are eligible for benefits will receive their benefits," he said.
Vermont, like other states in the region and across the country, has also taken other steps to assist Vermonters feeling the economic impact of COVID-19, including tripling unemployment staff and adding an electronic form to establish an initial unemployment claim.
The state has also shortened the length of time to receive benefit payments from about two weeks to 6-10 days, Harrington said, and has temporarily waived the work search requirement for all filers, not just those with a specific return to work date.
People who had existing unemployment claims at the time of COVID-19 will likely remain eligible for benefits if they contract the illness while currently filing, or if they are on a seasonal layoff and their return to work has been changed due to the pandemic, according to the Vermont Department of Labor website.
Those who opened a claim within the last 12 months and are looking to re-establish a claim for benefits as a result of COVID-19 will need to re-open their claim, according to the site.
The United States saw a record number of unemployment claims — 3.3 million — the week of March 20, amid the widespread economic shutdown caused by COVID-19, the Associated Press has reported.