Latest Coronavirus Coverage

Labor commissioner briefs lawmakers: calls fall off, $345 million paid out

May 18 2020, 6:40 PM

Vermont’s Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington told lawmakers on Monday his department has seen a sharp drop-off in the number of calls it is receiving about unemployment benefits.

Closer to the beginning of the outbreak, it wouldn’t be uncommon for the department to receive 500,000 calls in a single day. About two weeks ago, that had dropped to about 60,000 calls, and on Friday it fell further to 5,400. 

Harrington said that the department received 90,000 initial claims for unemployment benefits and that now about 68,000 people are being paid. 

So far, the department has paid out $295 million through the state’s traditional unemployment system and $50 million through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which applies to the self-employed and independent contractors. 

And although some have reported struggling to receive PUA benefits, Harrington say 90%-95% of Vermonters eligible for the program have seen payments. 

But with some out-of-work Vermonters now going more than two months without pay, lawmakers say the department still needs to improve the unemployment system. 

“While everything your department is doing is stepping up tremendously it unfortunately still demands more because Vermonters are living without any income and we’re very worried about food insecurity and depression and homelessness and violence and chaos in the home,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson told Harrington Monday. 

— Xander Landen