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Virginia lawmakers weigh in on 'scathing' VEC report

Virginia Unemployment Commission
Posted at 5:36 PM, Sep 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-22 18:22:30-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Over a year from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the results of an impartial review of the Virginia Employment Commission are in and Republican Delegate Kirk Cox called them a "pretty scathing report."

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that 100,00 claims remain outstanding, the call center and adjudication staffing remain low and an outdated IT system that was supposed to be fixed eight years ago is still not done.

Cox, who sits on the JLARC review commission, said the findings are "horrific."

"It's been a total failure of the Northam administration, to be candid," Cox said.

However, Democratic Delegate Ken Plum, who chairs the review commission, defended the agency.

"Filling positions at the VEC has been just like filling positions in the private sector these days, it seems to be hard to get people to come back to work," Plum said.

As for the outdated computer system, Plum said the entire state government has been undergoing a computer system upgrade and the VEC was not originally prioritized.

"That was in the good times when the VEC's claims were much more manageable, if we had been able to look forward and realize a pandemic was coming, VEC would have made it much higher on the priority list," Plum said.

Cox blamed Democratic governors for the upgrade delays.

"Candidly, that happened under Governor Northam and Governor McAuliffe," Cox said.

He also questioned Northam's choice to head the beleaguered agency: Ellen Marie Hess.

"Commissioner Hess has been missing in action during this entire episode," Cox said.

CBS6 has requested interviews with Hess over and over again, but every single time, a spokeswoman told us she was not available.

"How would you grade her job performance?" Melissa Hipolit asked Plum.

"I really don't know in terms of individual employees what their performance would be. I would say now there is a class-action suit against the VEC brought on by a number of citizens and that has limited her ability to respond to inquiries because she was part of a lawsuit related to all of this," Plum said.

We asked Hess's boss, Governor Northam if he still has confidence in her.

"Oh absolutely, this has been a tremendous challenge," Northam said.

During the recent gubernatorial debate on CBS6, Republican Glenn Youngkin said he will go to work on fixing the VEC on his first day in office. Democrat Terry McAuliffe said he will fix any agency that is not working properly.