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RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Coronavirus is a disease that’s not only harming the health of Virginia’s workforce — it’s also impacting the health of the Commonwealth’s economy.

Hundreds of thousands of Virginians became out of work since the COVID-19 outbreak led to the closures of schools, governments, and nonessential businesses across the state. Although the Commonwealth has slowly begun to reopen some of these businesses, many people are still without a job.

10 On Your Side is dedicated to helping you understand unemployment and seek help during this unprecedented time. Here we will provide you the most up-to-date information on unemployment: The data, how to apply, and how the state and federal governments plan to help.

Unemployment by the numbers

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 745,000 people filed initial unemployment claims last week, including 16,530 Virginians.

An initial claim is the first claim filed by an employee after they lose their job.

Last week’s national unemployment statistics are for the week ending in Feb. 27. According to the DOL, 9,000 more people filed initial unemployment claims last week than the week before.

Initial unemployment claims filed by Virginians increased by 4,586 last week compared to the prior week when 11,944 people filed for benefits in the Commonwealth, according to the DOL.

The DOL has released these numbers as advanced estimates, which are subject to change when the Virginia Employment Commission releases its raw data.

Filing for unemployment

On April 3, Gov. Ralph Northam said that the COVID-19 crisis is “overwhelming” Virginia’s unemployment system.

“People have had issues. People have had issues with our website,” he said.

Northam said that VEC has upgraded its website, expanded server capacity, and call center staff will be increased by 20%.

The Department of Labor will provide unemployment benefits who did not previously qualify for unemployment but do now under the CARES Act.

Filing for unemployment can be daunting, especially if it’s your first time seeking benefits. You can file for unemployment with the Virginia Employment Commission online, which is the preferred method.

VEC has created a video on how to file for unemployment:

Here are the steps for filing for traditional unemployment:

In April, VEC launched the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. This program is for workers who do not qualify for unemployment benefits under the traditional program, but do qualify under the CARES Act. This includes people who are self employed, gig workers, and contractors, among others.

RELATED: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program now available for Virginians who don’t qualify for traditional benefits

Here are the steps for filing for PUA:

  • You must apply for traditional unemployment insurance through the VEC because the agency must verify your eligibility before processing your PUA benefits application
  • You will receive a monetary determination from the VEC — it will indicate that you do not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits
  • The monetary determination will give you the option to appeal — you do not need to appeal unless you think you should qualify under the traditional unemployment program
  • You will fill out the PUA application, which can be found here
  • You will receive a second monetary determination that will notify you of your eligibility under the PUA and what benefits you qualify for
  • The VEC will begin to make payments about two weeks after the PUA application is accepted

Remember: You will need to file for unemployment weekly, under both the traditional and PUA programs. Return to VEC’s website and use your PIN to file for unemployment benefits every week as long as you are out of work. VEC recommends filing continuing unemployment claims on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday of each week.

VEC is updating its website with several important notices to people who are filing claims. We will also post those notices here:

Important: Effective March 15, Gov. Ralph Northam suspended the one-week waiting period for filing, as well as the requirement to conduct a weekly job search.

Important: VEC’s online claim filing system is working, but it is not sending confirmation numbers. Claims are being received and VEC is working on fixing the online error.

If you are looking for work during the coronavirus pandemic, 10 On Your Side has also put together a list of employers that are hiring. We are updating that list as information becomes available.

How the government plans to help

There are several plans to provide federal aid to workers who are unemployed due to COVID-19.

  • The federal government passed a stimulus package that will result in one-time payments to Americans. The government plans to issue this money to individuals whether they are unemployed or working. Single adults will receive $1,200. Married couples will receive $2,400. Families will receive $500 per child they claim on their taxes. These amounts are accurate for people earning up to $75,000, but the amount starts to lessen the more you make above that amount. People earning more than $99,000 — or couples making more than $198,000 — do not qualify.
  • Congress has passed a $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package. This money will benefit workers who need to file for unemployment. It also opens up unemployment filings to business owners, people who work multiple part-time jobs, and contractors. These benefits are in addition to the stimulus checks the federal government plans to send to Americans.
  • Virginia’s SNAP program will issue emergency benefits during the COVID-19 crisis. These benefits will provide families with money for food.