SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Prior to July 31, when the CARES Act was paying an additional $600 a week to supplement regular state unemployment benefits, the money added up in a hurry for people who qualified — even if they were out of work for a relatively short period of time.
“When you lose a whole month of salary and you live week-to-week, it gets very difficult,” said Billy Meinsen of Elizabeth City, NC. He was working as an electrician’s apprentice for IES Commercial of Suffolk until a coworker tested positive for the coronavirus last summer.
“They wanted all of us who were working with him closely to get tested, and I tested positive for COVID as well,” he recalled.
Meinsen missed two weeks of work while he was in isolation, and another two weeks to get two negative COVID tests his employer required. He applied for unemployment and returned to work in August.
“[Virginia Employment Commission] sent me a letter of determination on August the 7th, determining that I got the maximum value,” he explained.
That’s about $368 a week. It was before July 31, so Meinsen also qualified for the additional $600 federal supplement. That’s nearly $1,000 a week, times four weeks, and Meinsen was entitled to nearly $3,900.
He’s tried to reach the VEC.
“If you try to contact that 800-number that they have, if you don’t get right in at 8:15, you can’t leave a message, you can’t talk to anybody.”
Meinsen gave VEC the required medical documentation proving he had COVID-19, but because he took personal leave for the four weeks that the virus kept him off the job, VEC told him his case requires more evaluation.
He and his wife have been waiting months for the money. They’ve been able to cover rent and utilities, but not everything.
“But some of the credit card bills, we just let go, because we just couldn’t pay them,” Meinsen said.
Meinsen is trying to catch up with his finances by working overtime. If you have an unemployment problem, contact 10 On Your Side at firstname.lastname@example.org.