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Rising Unemployment Rate Triggers Extension of Jobless Benefits

The unemployment rate in the U.S. Virgin Islands reached 12.2 percent in June, triggering an extension of jobless benefits for claimants in the territory who have been unemployed for a long period, according to the Department of Labor’s Allison Degazon, director of the unemployment insurance program.

Degazon said Thursday the jump in the jobless rate was directly related to the closure of the Hovensa oil refinery in April. On the mainland, the national average for the unemployment rate is 8.2 percent, with highs of 11 percent in Rhode Island and 10.8 percent in California, and a low of 4.6 percent in Vermont.

In a statement released Thursday by the Department of Labor, Commissioner Albert Bryan Jr. said the jobless rate in the territory has triggered “Tier 3” of Emergency Unemployment Compensation Benefits.

Degazon explained that an initial jobless claim provides benefits for 26 weeks. There then can be extensions, called tiers, if the proper conditions have been met. In April the territory’s jobless rate was below the 6-percent trigger level for Tier 3 benefits, and those extra benefits “triggered off” for a 13-week period.

According to Labor’s statement, the jobless rate has surpassed the trigger level and a payable period in Tier 3 will resume beginning July 1. For those claimants who are in Tier 2, the first payable week for eligible claimants in Tier 3 will be the week ending July 7.

“Finding a job is even harder,” Degazon said, “so they’re going to get another 16 weeks depending on how long they’ve been on unemployment.”

She said claimants have to come by the Department of Labor office to extend their claim, show that they are still looking for work and meet other criteria.

“This trigger on to Tier 3 is something we anticipated as a result of the HOVENSA closure,” Bryan said in the news release. “Our staff is working to ensure that notices and applications are going out to claimants who have exhausted their Tier 2 benefits.” He encouraged the public to hold off calling to allow for the receipt of notification via mail.

For more information, contact the Labor offices at 773-1994 on St. Croix or 776-3700 on St. Thomas.

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