RICHMOND, Va. -- With thousands of frustrated Virginians continuing to wait for a decision to be made about their unemployment claims, claimants, activists and legislators held a press conference in an attempt to evoke systemic change to the way the Virginia Employment Commission does business and bring immediate monetary relief.
"I was unable to communicate by phone due to hours of being placed on hold," said Anita Johnson, who said her benefits were cut off in October.
"Hundreds of people, more than that across this state, do not have access to technology," Breanne Armbrust, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Resource Center of Greater Fulton, said.
Data from the U.S. Department of Labor still shows that Virginia is last in the country when it comes to resolving issues with unemployment claims within three weeks.
In a letter sent by the coalition at the press conference to the Governor's Chief Workforce Advisor Megan Healy, the group asked the VEC to send monthly payments to people who have been waiting for the claims to be processed.
"The governor and VEC need to pay $1,000 per month to all applicants for unemployment insurance or related assistance for all claims that are not fully processed within 30 days," Jamaa Bickley-King, Board Chair of New Virginia Majority, said.
However, when asked by reporters about the $1,000 payments, the advocates recanted, saying the payments would be a one-time deal and would not recur monthly.
In their letter, they also asked the governor not to put $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan into Virginia's unemployment trust fund and instead use the money to improve operations at the VEC and pay claimants immediately.
"It could potentially be executed faster than waiting on the back pay through the system that's bogged down," Delegate Sally Hudson said.
Delegate Hudson, who is an economist, said Virginia does not need to refill the unemployment fund in one fell swoop.
"The unemployment system already has a baked-in way of filling up that trust fund by design, it's called payroll taxes and so we can do that slowly over the course of many years," Hudson said.
The coalition would like the General Assembly to consider its recommendations at its August special session.
We reached out to the VEC about the letter and spokeswoman Joyce Fogg said "I have no comment."