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VEC could have 1 million additional unemployment claim issues to settle

JLARC report on VEC meeting.png
Posted at 12:58 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 20:53:11-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) still has over 100,000 unemployment insurance claims to examine and possibly one million claim issues to resolve, according to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC)'s interim report presented Monday.

Those 100,000 claims are in addition to the 92,000 claims a judge ordered them to resolve before Labor Day thanks to a class-action lawsuit filed in May.

The VEC said they've requested the lawsuit be dismissed since they've completed the backlog of 92,000 claims. The judge's order had put the lawsuit on pause.

However, the JLARC report noted the VEC has not effectively responded to all of the claims and the backlog they face beyond the lawsuit, and the total will likely grow.

Despite the unprecedented number of claims the VEC has received since the start of the pandemic -- which were 10 times more than the volume they experienced in 2019 -- JLARC said the VEC could have been better equipped to effectively manage the increase.

Their findings showed VEC staffing was too low before the pandemic even began.

The VEC has not been able to hire enough adjudication staff -- the staff handling the unemployment cases -- according to the report, and 46% of full-time adjudication positions remain vacant.

The report also said there’s a high turnover rate among VEC adjudicators.

JLARC also found that VEC call centers have only been answering a small portion of incoming calls largely because of insufficient IT systems and lack of call center staff.

Deloitte, a business management consultant company, started helping to manage the call center in August of 2021. They've already added 300 staff members.

A new phone software system is projected to be in place by Oct. 1.

In addition to staffing issues, JLARC noted the VEC uses an outdated IT system and paper-based manual claims process.

The process of updating that system began 12 years ago and it was supposed to have been completed eight years ago.

According to experts, the modernization of their unemployment claims IT should have only taken between three to five years.

Now, the VEC said they plan to complete the system update in June of 2022, but they are rolling out the first new phase on Oct. 1.

But JLARC warned VEC employees just started training on the new system last week -- less than a month before the first phase.

JLARC is concerned that all of the major risks with the roll-out have not been mitigated, including the potential for a five to seven day blackout period when the new system rolls out. This could cause claimants to not be able to access or file their weekly claims during this period.

JLARC's report added the VEC needs to work on their communication with claimants and that the process and eligibility of unemployment insurance is not clear.

One example of unclear communication was brought forward Monday when Lauren Axselle, JLARC's project leader for the VEC review, noted most communication regarding the claims process is at or above a college reading level -- making it nearly impossible for many Virginians to understand how to apply or resolve their claim.

They suggested the VEC revise the unemployment insurance forms, notices and other explanatory documents to more clearly describe the program, eligibility requirements and the application process.

Overall, JLARC's report stated that the VEC’s performance underscores the need for additional oversight and accountability.

Their final report is expected to be released in November or December.