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Justice assigns National Guard to tackle unemployment claim backlog; WorkForce outlines CARES Act guidelines

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice on Friday, during his daily coronavirus press briefing, expressed his frustration with WorkForce West Virginia’s inability to handle the massive influx of unemployment claims – 7,000 per day – spurred by closures of nonessential businesses and the economic downturn.

“I don’t care if we’ve got to put 150 more people on it to get it done,” he said in response to a question from The Dominion Post. “We cant quit running until it’s over.”

Later in the day, he announced he’s called in the National Guard to help.

For those who need to apply, this story offers information regarding the unemployment provisions in the CARES Act and information from WorkForce.

Regarding the backlog, Justice said in his Friday announcement, “I want to thank the employees at WorkForce for everything they are doing and how hard they are working.They are attempting to process 90,000 claims from last month compared to 3,400 in March 2019.”

He continued, “We understand that our people that are out of work are hurting. The processing of claims is going through a federal system which is creating a bottleneck and is slowing processing.”

As of Monday, he said, the Workforce call line – 800-379-1032 – will be operating 24/7. He’s directed the National Guard “to spare no expense, and use all their resources in as many physical locations as possible, to get the backlog of calls under control.”

Justice said they will employ Guard members who have lost their private employment due to the pandemic, and the West Virginia Office of Technology is assisting with technology implementation.

WorkForce, on its unemployment claims pages, notes that those who want to file an initial claim not use a cell phone or tablet. Online claims can be made by following the link at


In summary, CARES provides for an additional $600 per week of Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) on top of the state benefit and extends eligibility an extra 13 weeks – from 26 weeks to 39 weeks.

The extra $600 payment will last for up to four months, covering 16 weeks of unemployment, and is scheduled to end July 31. The expanded coverage will be available to workers who are newly eligible for unemployment benefits for weeks beginning Jan. 27 through Dec. 31.

This applies to workers whose employer is closed; to workers or workers’ household members are diagnosed with or quarantined because of COVID-19; to workers taking care of a diagnosed family or household member or a member unable to attend school; to workers scheduled to start a job that no longer exists because of the virus; the worker is self-employed, is seeking part-time work, does not have sufficient work history or otherwise doesn’t qualify for unemployment.

WorkForce says that in West Virginia, the maximum weekly benefit amount is $424 per week. The weekly benefit is calculated using wages paid in a defined base period. For example, if your weekly benefit is computed at $250 per week, the $600 PUC will be added to that for a total of $850. The Federal PUC payments will be provided weekly.

All benefits remain taxable.

Self-employed workers, freelancers, gig, and independent contractors are covered in the bill. However, WorkForce says it is still programming its system to process those claims. It will announce when those worers may start filing and doesn’t want calls for those claims at this time.

For the self-employed, benefit amounts are calculated based on previous income, using a formula
from the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program. They will be eligible for the $600 PUC.

CARES Act PUC benefits are not intended to cover people who quit or want to quit because they fear that continuing to work puts them at risk of contracting coronavirus.

If the breadwinner of the household has died as a result of coronavirus and the surviving spouse or partner relied on that person for income and is not working, the survivor is eligible for PUC benefits.

Workers who are able to work from home, and those receiving paid sick leave or paid family leave are not covered. New entrants to the workforce who cannot find jobs would also be ineligible.

For those whose unemployment recently ran out and have exhausted their benefits, eligible workers may reapply. A new weekly benefit amount will be calculated based on wages earned during a
designated base period.

Workforce says the additional $600 benefit may count as income and should be reported when applying for income-test programs.

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