Portsmouth caterer awaiting back benefits in region’s worst city for unemployment


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — How is anybody supposed to live on $158 a week?

That’s the question that plagues Judy Harris, referring to the weekly benefit under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Until last spring she had a growing catering business in Portsmouth.

The latest data from the Virginia Employment Commission shows Portsmouth at 8% unemployment, compared with a state average of 4.7%. That makes Portsmouth the highest in Hampton Roads, where the overall regional average is 5.2%

“My business became nonexistent probably around the end of March,” said Harris, who began Bites by JC in Portsmouth nearly four years ago.

Once the pandemic hit, her West Indies mac and cheese, lasagna and eggplant parmesan were no longer the hit of weddings, bridal showers and birthday parties. As a sole proprietor, Harris didn’t qualify for traditional unemployment, but got Pandemic Unemployment from the CARES Act.

She also got the federal supplement of $600 a week, but that ran out Aug. 1.

Despite the extension of PUA by former President Donald Trump, Harris hasn’t received anything for more than a month.

“I’ve been selling things and just trying to keep up with what I can,” she said.

In late December, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pledged to get rid of the backlog of unemployment claims.

“How long does it take to update a system that’s already in place? That’s the question that I have,” Harris said.

Other cities with high unemployment rates besides Portsmouth include Emporia and Martinsville, but the highest was Petersburg at just over 12%. If you have a problem with unemployment contact us at reportit@wavy.com.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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