RICHMOND, Va. -- A hearing at the General Assembly next month will put an unforgiving spotlight on the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).
The VEC’s performance during the pandemic has frequently been described as a fiasco, as hundreds of thousands of desperate Virginians struggled to get their benefits.
Many of them reached out to CBS 6 for help.
But even after a new administration put a new chief in charge nearly a year-and-a-half ago, with the shutdowns of the pandemic largely in the rear-view mirror, the abysmal results continue.
And yet the VEC is cutting staff.
The Virginia Unemployment Insurance Subcommittee’s goal with the June 7 meeting is to identify where the VEC stands and what needs to be fixed; you can share your thoughts ahead of time by sending a comment.
Pat Levy-Lavelle with the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) has set up an easy-to-follow sample comment and link to the committee’s inbox on the LAJC website: TAKE ACTION: Unemployment Insurance - Legal Aid Justice Center (justice4all.org).
Virginia's Unemployment Insurance Subcommittee was set up by the GA after the chaos of the pandemic to make sure the VEC was monitored and would meet certain benchmarks.
“What exactly they’ll be looking at is not yet on an agenda,” Levy-Lavelle said. “But they’ll definitely be looking for accountability in improving their standing compared with other states.”
But through the first quarter of this year, the VEC remains last or near last among states in key categories, such as how long it takes to get that first check or how long until your appeal will be heard after you’ve been denied benefits.
Many have asked whether the VEC has enough staff. In fact, virtually every one of the hundreds of folks who have contacted us at CBS 6 told us they couldn't get anyone to help them at the VEC.
“It seems pretty clear that they need more people,” said Levy-Lavelle. “I don't think at any point during the pandemic they had nearly enough staffing. From the earliest point, it seemed the Virginia Employment Commission was focused on getting through to the next day, which is understandable. But we're obviously three years later, and the state could invest much more to get much more staffing in there.”
Levy-Lavelle pointed to the recent layoffs at the VEC that were announced last month which he says will make an already overworked and understaffed situation that much worse.
"One of the critical departments that transfers people from regular benefits to pandemic unemployment assistance, for those folks who qualify, recently reduced its staff from 15 people down to three," said Levy-Lavelle. "And there's just not enough people to process claims and get people to where they need to be."
VEC spokesperson Joyce Fogg said the cuts, which will eliminate 157 positions and which will take effect June 9th, were because federal pandemic funding was coming to an end.
"This is a response to a long-anticipated reduction in federal funding following the pandemic," Fogg wrote in an email. "VEC staff fluctuates dependent on federal funding and workload. The vast majority are wage and restricted employees. VEC is taking unprecedented efforts to assist impacted staff with placement in other state agencies – including a new state policy for preference in hiring for restricted classified employees. VEC is hosting job fairs with other state agencies to provide new opportunities impacted employees."
Fogg also said the VEC will still have 100 more employees than were on staff in January 2020.
Levy-Lavelle says it is critically important for folks to send their thoughts on the layoffs and agency performance to the Virginia Unemployment Insurance Subcommittee because they will have the power to make changes at the VEC, especially if it comes down to allocating more money to hire more people.
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