In our article "Virginia Myths and More," we wrote that some of the federal stimulus money available to Virginia came with a requirement to change the state’s unemployment eligibility rules to give "benefits to part-time workers for the first time." However, an alert reader who works at the Virginia Employment Commission told us that the state has always extended unemployment benefits to part-time workers. We checked in with the VEC, and our article could use some clarification.
It’s true that the stimulus funds would require an expansion in unemployment eligibility, but it’s not accurate to say that all part-time workers would get benefits "for the first time." Coleman Walsh, the chief administrative law judge at the VEC, told us in an e-mail that part-time workers who lose their jobs are already eligible for benefits, as long as they were earning a minimum of $2,700 during at least two of the quarters being evaluated to determine eligibility. This minimum requirement was calculated based on an assumption of at least 20 hours per week at minimum wage — in other words, the idea that some people would be working part-time is built into the baseline eligibility requirements.
People who are drawing unemployment can also take part-time jobs if they become available — in fact, they must. To remain eligible for unemployment in Virginia under current law, one must be available and willing to take any job that presents itself, whether full- or part-time. That means that former part-time workers collecting unemployment must take a full-time job if offered one.
This is what would change under the stimulus plan. Walsh explained: "The effect of the stimulus legislation in Virginia would have been to allow part-time workers to remain eligible by (1) being available for only part-time work and (2) not being disqualified for refusing an offer of full-time work." Those who had previously been working part-time would be permitted to seek only part-time employment, and would remain eligible for benefits even if they turned down full-time opportunities. We would have been correct to say that with the proposed changes, formerly part-time workers seeking only part-time work would get benefits for the first time.