RICHMOND, Va. -- More than 14 months into the pandemic that plunged the Commonwealth into an economic crisis, and more than a month after a class-action lawsuit accused the Virginia Employment Commission of “gross failure” in processing claims, this week Governor Ralph Northam ordered that agency to speed up its work.
That's small comfort for a Chesterfield woman who says she's well aware Virginia ranks about dead last among all 50 states in how quickly it fixes unemployment filing problems.
"I have tried to fill out the identity theft form online and it says, ‘submission failed, call us,’ but you can't reach anybody,” said Dawn Anderson. “I call that number, like I’m trying to win something on a radio station, just over and over and over, but there's no way to reach anybody."
Anderson hasn't been getting her unemployment benefits for seven months.
The VEC has never told her why.
But she's now got a bigger problem.
When she first filed for benefits, and got them, from March until October of last year, after the call center where she worked shut down, the VEC had her proper address and phone number.
But Anderson learned recently someone has changed her information. She only found out when, by what she calls a fluke, she got through the torturous phone system which the VEC deploys to screen callers, and got a human.
"She was verifying my information, and she gave me an old address,” Anderson said. “I said, ‘no, that's my old address from nine years ago, that's my old phone number from nine years ago,’ and she changed it. She verified my checking account information and it was correct. But since then, my checking account information has been changed."
That one brief conversation in April with a VEC employee, who Anderson says was not allowed to actually help her, brought even more ominous news.
"They've mailed my PIN number to my old address, so somebody has my PIN number, and somebody has all of my information,” Anderson said.
Anderson says the changed personal details flagged her account for possible fraud, but she still doesn't know why her claim hasn't been resolved, so many agonizing months later.
"Things need to be resolved in a timely manner, and if you can't get on the issue right away, at least, make contact via phone or email and let the person know, ‘we're working on it,’” Anderson said. “They can say, ‘We'll get back to you in two days, three days, a week,’ whatever, so let's set up a meeting."
Anderson has a plea she says, for whoever is in charge at the VEC:
"There are people that are losing their homes,” she said. “There are some people that have medical needs that can't be met because the VEC because… well, I don't know what they do at work all day, but if they can put themselves in someone else's shoes, that would help."
For Anderson the situation is dire.
"There are some pretty significant bills that we aren't able to pay,” said Anderson. “My husband does work. So it's just been very, very tight and stressful. We go to food banks, church food banks, to get food occasionally."
We sent VEC spokeswoman Joyce Fogg details on Anderson's seven-month-long search for answers, but she did not respond.
We have also asked repeatedly for a chance to speak to Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess, going back many weeks now, and neither Fogg nor Hess has responded.