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‘You’re Basically Pulling the Rug Out From Under Us’ - Extended Unemployment Ends

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Unemployment benefits were extended to help handle the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent recession, but those benefits are coming to an end with one program expiring this week and another set to expire at the end of the year. (Photo: Cirxell Matthews/VPM News)

About 20,000 people in Virginia will lose unemployment benefits after this week. 

Workers are eligible for up to 26 weeks of regular state-funded unemployment benefits, followed by 13 weeks of federally-funded Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. Once that benefit is exhausted, claimants can apply for 13 more weeks, under the Extended Benefits Program

The program, which predates the pandemic, was triggered in May when the state’s unemployment rate rose above 5%. As of Nov. 15, Virginia’s rate fell below that threshold, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. 

That means while many Virginians have gone back to work, thousands of people, like Luis Mairena, will be without a paycheck. 

“You’re basically pulling the rug out from under us,” Mairena said. “With less than a week to Thanksgiving. There’s no time to prepare.”

Mairena lives in Alexandria and has been collecting unemployment since March when he was let go from his job as a chef. He said he just found out Thursday that he would get his last check next week. 

“I was hoping to just ride out the benefits, because the vaccine is starting to get some traction, and hopefully once people are vaccinated I can step out of my house and go work and things can go back to a normality of some kind,” Mairena said. 

Joyce Fogg, a spokesperson for the Virginia Employment Commission, said many people will continue to get benefits.

“People need to understand which program they’re on. A lot of people are just thinking whatever they’re on, that the benefits are going to go away,” Fogg said.

Although claimants receive a monetary determination explaining their eligibility for benefits and the amount they’re entitled to receive, the VEC’s website says they may not receive their full entitlement now that the program is ending

Virginians can expect to lose another unemployment benefit at the end of the year.  The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, passed as part of the CARES Act, expires on Dec. 26. The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, estimates that ending that program could leave nearly 65,000 state residents without benefits.

Fogg notes that there are more than 500,000 job openings posted on the VEC website.