RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Employment Commission was ordered on Tuesday by Judge Henry Hudson to end the backlog of unemployment insurance claims and to identify and pay Virginians in need of benefits.
The backlog of insurance claims has left claimants waiting months to receive financial support from the VEC after losing their jobs.
The VEC has been ordered to resolve the backlog of claims in the next 100 days.
“The VEC is grateful that Judge Hudson has recognized the hard work of our employees throughout this pandemic, and we will continue to ensure Virginians have access to all benefits for which they are eligible. The VEC is focused on serving our customers, and we are committed to continuing the important work our team is doing for their fellow Virginians,” said Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess.
This order pauses the proposed class-action lawsuit that was filed on April 15. Legal Aide Justice Center attorney Pat Levy-Lavelle and a handful of organizations filed a class-action lawsuit against the VEC alleging “gross failures" to provide needed help as required by law amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"For more than a year, we have heard daily from Virginians across the state who needed to get emergency help—often for the first time—and instead got delays," said Levy-Lavelle said. "Many Virginians did receive benefits, and we know that people at the VEC have been working hard during the pandemic. Still, this lawsuit has been about getting more help for gaps in the system and the Virginians who desperately need it. The steps ordered today are a hopeful sign that help is on the way."
The order will go into effect immediately and will require the VEC to do the following:
- Ensure the elimination of the VEC adjudication backlog before September 6, 2021 (Labor Day).
- Accelerate the adjudication of claims to 10,000 cases weekly by July 1, 2021, and 20,000 cases weekly by August 1, 2021.
- Quickly and immediately process adjudications for many applicants who are covered by Pandemic Unemployment benefits but have had to first await adjudication.
- Identify and resume payments to those claimants who had been getting benefits but were improperly cut off.
- Require state identification and better coordination of various alternate housing, food, and income benefits available to applicants in financial difficulty.
- Subject the VEC's new performance standards and deadlines to judicial supervision and require weekly information sharing to make that possible.
Virginia ranks 51st out of 53 states and territories for the amount of federal funding it receives relative to what Virginia businesses pay in taxes. The problem was hidden by years of low unemployment and a consistently strong economy, and the pandemic has highlighted this reality, according to a press release.
Dr. Megan Healy, Gov. Northam’s Chief Workforce Advisor, said more than 84% of Virginians who were eligible for their benefits were paid within 21 days, which is the sixth-fastest in the nation. It’s the cases with issues that are taking the longest to resolve.