Virginia Employment Commission resolves unemployment claims backlog but must now clear another one

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Employment Commission has fulfilled a federal court agreement to resolve more than 92,000 unpaid unemployment claims, but the state agency has two weeks to clear another backlog.

The commission was required to “substantially resolve at least 95%” of the 92,158 unpaid claims awaiting adjudication as of May 10. The state agency reported that it cleared that specific backlog a month before it was required to do so, but the judge overseeing the case denied the VEC’s dismissal request after plaintiffs in the federal class-action suit claimed the backlog was growing.

“Unpaid Claims Awaiting Adjudication as of May 10, 2021 are substantially complete and the VEC reports that as of the week ending October 23, 2021, the total number of Unpaid Claims Awaiting Adjudication as of May 10, 2021 is 279,” the VEC and plaintiffs’ legal team wrote in a joint status report filed Friday. “The VEC reports that all of these 279 claims have received PUA benefits, and the VEC will administratively move the duplicate weeks to another program to offset the PUA benefits that have been paid.”

In the status report, the VEC agreed to resolve at least 95% of the pending unpaid claims that have come in since May 10 and through Oct. 15. The state has until Nov. 19 to clear the backlog and must file a status report addressing the VEC’s compliance no later than Nov. 30.

In April, five Virginia residents struggling to get the unemployment insurance benefits they sought sued VEC Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess in federal court in Richmond. The class-action lawsuit alleged the VEC violated claimants’ rights for not responding to complaints and abruptly putting people’s benefits on hold without quickly adjudicating disputed claims. 

Pat Levy-Lavelle is an attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center, a group working alongside the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Legal Aid Works, Consumer Litigation Associates and Kelly Guzzo, PLC, on behalf of the plaintiffs.

He told 8News on Friday that the VEC has improved in many ways, specifically how the state has focused on those who haven’t received benefits and for setting up a process to deal with alleged fraud.

“Clearly there are fraudsters out there and nobody has any interest in helping them but plaintiffs’ attorneys and legal aid advocates across the state have talked with legitimate, bonafide claimants who are real unemployed people with real hurt who have these alleged fraud or identity issues against them where they haven’t done anything wrong,” he said.

But Levy-Lavelle said issues still remain, noting how long people are waiting for appeals.

“Anybody who gets a decision against them can appeal that first decision to what’s called first-level appeals or the appeals examiner level,” he said. “And there the federal standard is that the average age from the time somebody appeals to when their case is decided is supposed to be not more than 30 days. But due to the historic volume of pandemic claims, in Virginia that number is more like 275 to 300 days. Which is way too long and the agency realizes that.”

For their part, the state agency will reassign the contract employees hired to work on adjudicating the unpaid claim backlog to deal with the pending first-level appeals. As of the week ending Oct. 23, the VEC reported 80,722 pending first-level appeals.

WATCH: Attorney Pat Levy-Lavelle for the Legal Aid Justice Center sits down with 8News

Stay with 8News for updates.

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