I hope you are enjoying the start of what promises to be a very different summer than the last. We have much to look forward to today. Read on for information on the COVID-19 vaccine, important news regarding unemployment benefits, updates from the VRE and DMV, and information on a new internet access discount program. Plus, watch a recording of last month’s live education roundtable and see my latest campaign endorsement!
Reported cases of COVID-19 continue to trend down across Virginia and in our region. All Virginians are still strongly encouraged to: continue teleworking if possible, wash hands regularly, maintain six feet of physical distance from others outside the home, and get tested immediately if experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. By continuing to practice caution, you help guard our progress toward overcoming this pandemic in Virginia. See the latest updates and guidelines from the Governor here.
The only way we can truly put the pandemic behind us is by ensuring every eligible person who can safely receive the vaccine does so. Every Virginian age 12 or older is now eligible to be vaccinated. Well over half of all adults in the commonwealth have received at least one dose already. You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer or Moderna vaccines) and two weeks after receiving a single dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson). Learn more about the vaccine here and make an appointment for yourself or your teen here (note: many vaccination sites are now accepting walk-ins, as well).
If you are experiencing anxiety or stress related to COVID-19, you can call or text VA COPES, a free and confidential support line: 877-349-6428. The line is open from 9am-5pm Monday through Friday and 5pm-9pm Saturday and Sunday.
Virginia Employment Commission
For over a year, our office – along with legislative offices across the commonwealth – has been hearing daily from constituents who are not receiving the unemployment compensation they filed for and desperately need. Any claims issues, however minor, have taken far too long to be resolved. We fully understand our constituents’ frustration with the VEC’s slow response rate. All legislative offices can do for individual cases is forward claims information to the VEC.
Seeing the magnitude of cases left on hold for weeks or months, the General Assembly has taken steps to improve the VEC’s performance as a whole, such as increasing funding to the Commission and forgiving any UI overpayments. In May, Governor Northam directed the VEC to invest $20 million in system upgrades, improve its customer contact center, and hire 300 new staff to process delayed claims.
Now, a federal judge has ordered the VEC to clear its backlog of over 92,000 claims by Labor Day. The order, in effect now, also requires the VEC to:
- Adjudicate 10,000 cases per week by July 1 and 20,000 cases per week by August 1
- Immediately process adjudications for filers eligible for pandemic unemployment benefits whose claims have been delayed
- Resume payments for claimants whose benefits were improperly cut off
These new standards are subject to judicial supervision and weekly reporting. Read more about it here.
While Virginia has performed well in UI payments to eligible Virginians overall, the VEC was simply not equipped to process complicated cases when the COVID-19 unemployment crisis began. Virginia was receiving among the lowest relative federal unemployment funding of all the states at that time. Cases with issues that require individual review are where the VEC has stumbled, processing only 2.4% of such claims within 21 days. We are hopeful that the increased resources directed to the VEC, in conjunction with the judicial order, will make a meaningful difference for those experiencing benefits delays.
Important update for anyone receiving unemployment compensation: Beginning this week, the work search requirement waiver is being lifted. That means anyone wishing to request a weekly claim for payment of unemployment benefits will be required to search for work and report those contacts when filing their weekly 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 of work they are seeking.” (VEC)
On May 10, I was joined by Prince William School Board Member Justin Wilk and Senator Scott Surovell for a roundtable on school re-openings, the latest public education budget from the General Assembly, and other education updates. You can watch a recording of the live event here.
Beginning today, the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) will resume its full-service schedule, increasing commuting options for passengers. VRE has been running a reduced-service schedule since March 17, 2020. As our constituents head back to work, VRE will operate 32 daily trains on its two lines under the full-service schedule.
VRE railcars will remain marked for social distancing, with window seats available in every other row. VRE’s train utilization webpage allows passengers to find the train that matches their social distance comfort level. An enhanced, twice daily cleaning of railcars and federal and state face mask requirements will also remain in place. VRE’s mobile app allows for the contactless purchase and validation of tickets.
As VRE returns to full service, it will implement a seasonal schedule on the Fredericksburg Line. This schedule adjusts the arrival times on select trains at certain stations in the afternoon to mitigate the effects of heat-related speed restrictions that occur in summer.
The Amtrak Step-Up program, which allows VRE ticketholders to ride Amtrak trains for an additional charge, remains suspended.
In line with Governor Northam’s decision to ease COVID-19 restrictions, DMV is opening more windows and testing stations in its customer service centers beginning June 1. Customers can now schedule these new appointments. Additional windows and testing stations will open in stages beginning June 15 and into July as DMV continues to hire and train new employees. DMV customer service centers and mobile operations teams will continue to operate by appointment only for specific services which generally necessitate an in-person visit. Appointment opportunities are currently available for a 90-day period. Customers can schedule an appointment by visiting dmvNOW.com/appt.
Several services have transitioned online throughout the pandemic:
- On September 15, 2020, DMV began offering customers the option to renew their identification card or driver’s license online or by mail for two years instead of coming to a customer service center in person to renew.
- On November 11, 2020, DMV began offering online commercial driver’s license (CDL) renewals.
- On February 23, 2021, DMV began offering online replacement of certain credentials, including a CDL, a driver’s license learner’s permit, a driver privilege card, a limited duration driver’s license learner’s permit, and a limited duration driver’s license.
Last week my re-election campaign was endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.
With Roe v. Wade under existential threat, you deserve representatives who are committed to protecting reproductive health and autonomy in Virginia. I’m proud to have NARAL’s support at this critical time.
Emergency Broadband Benefit
Eligible households can now enroll in the new Emergency Broadband Benefit program to receive a discount up to $50 per month off the cost of broadband service from an approved provider. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers. Learn more and apply: https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office with any questions or concerns.