Statehouse Expands Unemployment Benefits with COVID-19 Response Package
While Vermont’s businesses grapple with the growing impacts of the coronavirus, working Vermonters are being laid off at historic rates and Unemployment Insurance (UI) claims are skyrocketing as a result. Vermont Department of Labor (DOL) usually processes 400 employment claims in a given week. By the end of last week they had processed 4000 after offering their new online UI application form. Many more are expected to follow as the pandemic grows.
Thankfully, legislators in the statehouse are taking action to ensure that unemployment benefits are not only accessible to those impacted by the pandemic but that employers are protected from increases in UI tax rates for COVID-19 related layoffs and resignations.
As a refresher, unemployment Insurance is funded via an employer payroll tax and the rate of said tax is based on how many layoffs they have. The more layoffs a business incurs the higher the tax rate and vice versa. This is also known as an experience rate. For an employee to qualify for UI they have to have worked there for at least two of the last five quarters and meet the state’s minimum earnings threshold. In order to collect said benefit, they must be searching for new work or be informed by their employer that they will return to work within 10 weeks. They can then receive 50% of their income up to $513 per week.H. 742, part of the Vermont Legislature’s COVID-19 Response Package would change that paradigm.
The bill includes additional eligibility for UI benefits for those who quit their jobs if they:
- Need to self-isolate or quarantine because they’ve been diagnosed with, show symptoms of, or been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Individuals who are at higher risk if exposed or infected, such as the elderly, immunocompromised, those with pre-existing conditions, are also eligible.
- Are at an unreasonable risk of exposure and infection at their place of work.
- Need to care for a family member who has also quit their jobs due to an unreasonable risk of exposure or is presently in self-isolation or quarantine.
- Need to watch their children during school closures or if their childcare provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus.
To ensure that employers don’t bear the brunt of these changes the legislation would also ensure that virus-related layoffs don’t harm employer experience ratings. To qualify, they must rehire laid off employees within a reasonable period of time after they fully resume business or once the employee’s quarantine is completed.
Significant increases in Unemployment Insurance benefits are expected once Congress passes their $2 trillion economic relief bill, known as the CARES Act later today (more on that in a later post.) In the meantime, we hope you’ll join us in expressing our gratitude to Vermont’s lawmakers for taking swift action to help both employers and employees alike weather this storm.