PUA payment ceased
May 11, 2021 1:15 PM   Subscribe

My friend ("Rob") had been receiving Virginia PUA payments since last year when they were enacted. The payments have stopped and we cannot reach anyone, for weeks. This just isn't making sense to us, how do we proceed?

First off, it's important to note that at the beginning of this year, VA still had over 15,000 unprocessed claims, and ranked 50th in the country for unemployment benefit handling. They now have a class-action lawsuit against them, they're avoiding news outlets, it's a state of crisis here.

"Rob" has historically had a hard time working due to various mental illnesses and an autoimmune disorder. Last late winter, he was working in fast food. The pandemic hit, and the restaurant manager said she didn't want him to work because she didn't want to be liable for him getting sick (this was before we knew how bad it was). He applied for UI, was denied because of the length he had been working, and then was approved for PUA. Other than the various times the system, files, policy or banking infrastructure failed and his payments were delayed, he has routinely been paid, and has always received back pay for missed payments.

In march of this year, he received some sort of letter or message asking for "PUA documentation" and he submitted proof of his fast food job, as well as documentation from his physician about his autoimmune disease. Things went on as usual.

Then he stopped receiving payments this year at the beginning of april (the 7th was the last payment received). This wasn't the first time this had happened. He received no notice or warning why they stopped. The VEC then issued a statement on the 15th that they had shut down the online filing system to research fraud, and would be turning it on now. 5 days later the news reported that people were still unable to file their weekly claims, but it should be working soon. 4 days after that, the VEC sent out correspondence that says the following only:
When you file your weekly PUA claim and indicate you are not able and available for work, you have refused a job or you pick " None of the Above" for your separation reason, you can expect "No Payment" for that week. Your answers to those questions immediately stop payment as you may no longer be eligible for PUA benefits. If you have questions please visit the VEC website for more information on the eligibility requirements at https://www.vec.virginia.gov/unemployed/benefits-information/benefits-eligibility
this, to me, reads that his benefits were cut off because he is unable to work? But he had been saying he was unable to work this entire time, and there was no notice of policy change. And I thought the CARES act was supposed to cover those who couldn't work due to the pandemic? He can't make new claims because that now requires a PIN number that was lost in the mail. It's been weeks with not being able to contact anyone.

I guess this all really boils down to these questions:
1) Does he not qualify for PUA anymore?
2) If he does, will he receive back pay like has happened in the past?
3)Going forward (after managing to get the PIN somehow, should he select unavailable to work?

We just have no idea how to solve any of this and it's a very dire situation.
posted by FirstMateKate to Law & Government (4 answers total)
 
Best answer: Ohio-unemployment-filter, sort of:

1) He applied for UI, was denied because of the length he had been working, and then was approved for PUA.

In other words, he was a W2 employee, but had not been employed at that job long enough to qualify for "regular" UI, but was approved for the special PUA unemployment meant for gig workers and other people who would not ordinarily qualify for "regular" UI, right?

2) this, to me, reads that his benefits were cut off because he is unable to work? But he had been saying he was unable to work this entire time, and there was no notice of policy change.

I agree. But I think there has been a policy change that, surprise, surprise (heavy sarcasm), was probably not widely disseminated. Link: Work Search Requirements
"In March 2020, Governor Northam temporarily waived the requirement that unemployed individuals make an active search for work as required by the Virginia Unemployment Compensation Act. Now that the economy is beginning to make some recovery and more and more Virginia employers are resuming business and reopening, the suspension of the active work search requirement is being lifted. [. . .]

Beginning with the week of May 30 through June 5, 2021, individuals wishing to request a weekly claim for payment of unemployment benefits will be required to make an active search for work and report those contacts when filing their weekly-continued claim for benefits in order to receive payment. In addition, they will be required to be able to work, available for work, actively seeking and unable to obtain suitable work and be willing to accept any offer of suitable work without attaching any undue restrictions not usual and customary for the type work they are seeking."
I realize this doesn't address the issue of him missing payments starting in April, but I suspect this is part of the disorganization and/or fraud research - in normal non-COVID times people on UI are required to claim that they are able and willing to work, and to at least pretend to search for work. And any variation from that will get an automatic "flag" in the system and bring things to a screeching halt.

I myself (in Ohio), this past year - unemployed entirely due to COVID, while the work search requirements had been waived - once mistakenly clicked the "unable to work" button on a weekly filing and got denied payments until I re-filed (or filed an appeal, I forget which) for that week and explained that it had been a mistake and that I was actually able to work but there just wasn't any work to be had.

IOW, the whole system is set up from the start so that "unable/unavailable to work" = "you have a medical problem, you should be claiming disability not unemployment, it's not our problem, go contact SSI, no benefits for you." And so now that they're (supposedly) trying to straighten out fraudulent claims, my bet is that they are defaulting to the regular interpretation of "unavailable for work."

So while Rob is entirely technically correct - he is unable to work because there's a pandemic and tons of businesses are shut down or laying off employees - he is not "speaking the language" of the unemployment system, which is that he is able and available to work, but his employer is not re-hiring people and/or he has not yet been able to find another job he is qualified for.

So:

1) Does he not qualify for PUA anymore?

AFAICT and IME I would think he should still qualify for PUA. Although notifying them of his autoimmune issues may have complicated things, because he might also qualify for disability benefits, which might reduce his PUA benefits. (Sorry, no experience with disability, but you & he might look into whether he can claim some of those benefits.)

2) If he does, will he receive back pay like has happened in the past?

IME & those of people I know, yes. Eventually . . .

3)Going forward (after managing to get the PIN somehow, should he select unavailable to work?

NO. Again, this is about speaking the language of the bureaucracy - he is "available" to work, by the definition of the unemployment system, and going forward from May 30 he should go through the motions of searching for a job, as in my above link. And I suspect he may have to refile or file an appeal for past weeks "correcting" his claims of "unavailable/unable" because he WAS available, it's just that his fast food job laid him off because they didn't have any work for him because pandemic and they haven't hired him back.

He can't make new claims because that now requires a PIN number that was lost in the mail.

Fuck these fucking people and our nation's inexcusably cruel unemployment system.

It's been weeks with not being able to contact anyone.

Everyone I know who's gotten boned out of being able to file online - sometimes yes because of lost mail, sometimes because the whole system is unable to handle irregularities and conflicts via the web system - has basically had to spend 9-5 Monday through Friday dialing and redialing the phone until they manage to actually get a live person on the line.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:29 PM on May 11 [4 favorites]


PUA = pandemic unemployment assistance
posted by intermod at 7:06 PM on May 11


Best answer: I assume he's been calling this number over and over to request a new PIN? "If you lose your PIN, contact the VEC immediately at 1-866-832-2363 to request a copy of your PIN, and it will be mailed to you."

Otherwise, I think soundguy99 has it. I'm so sorry. MeMail me and I can pitch in some $ to help him in the meantime.
posted by purple_bird at 10:44 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


What was said above is true: if he is claiming he is unable to work do to chronic ongoing health conditions, that's disability and not unemployment and unemployment won't pay. Neither will SSI until he is approved for disability, which can take literal years. People end up in all kinds of awful financial situations because of it.

So if he can work, and wants to go back to work and just doesn't have a job, then he needs to be saying he is able to work and submitting any required paperwork for job searches etc.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:45 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


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