RICHMOND, Va. -- The CBS6 Problem Solvers continue to get calls and emails from unemployed Virginians who are desperate to get answers from the Virginia Employment Commission.
A recent government watchdog report found rampant problems, including the revelation that there are still more than 100,000 Virginians who are in limbo because the VEC has not acted on their claims.
Jason Haywood says after he was laid off, he was able to get benefits for several weeks. However, when he got some part-time work he temporarily stopped filing.
In the five months since then, Haywood says his interactions with the VEC have been a cruel tease.
"This kept on going on, you know, 'Don't worry. We're gonna get on it you know, we're gonna get it fixed, you know, we see we owe you the money. It's not a big deal,'" Haywood said.
Haywood said that one irony in his struggle is that, unlike other claimants who can't get anyone at the VEC on the phone, he has gotten through a handful of times. It's just that he says no one has been able to help him, with each employee saying the same thing: you are qualified, but there's a computer glitch preventing you from getting your money.
"They'll even answer. And as soon as they answer, they'll say, ‘Yes, sir. Hold on, we're looking into that,’ and then they'll hang up,” said Haywood. “I mean, literally, just hang right up, knowing how long it takes to get through to them."
The unemployed security guard was laid off in early April when the small firm he worked for lost its last client when the pandemic shut it down. His former boss let him keep his car and told him to apply for benefits.
He actually got them for three weeks, but after he paused for several weeks because he found part-time work, nothing has come since just notice upon notice telling him his benefits would resume.
"I've got letter after letter after letter,” he said, waving a thick stack of paper. “My favorite one is the one where they say, ‘Oh yeah, we owe you the money. And we're working on it."
Haywood says the financial impact has been devastating, and that even though his wife works for a local grocery store, the couple has had to file for bankruptcy.
“We applied for SNAP benefits,” said Haywood. “And we've got a social worker now who's trying to help us out, at least get food stamps. Every week I’ve had to grind to get money, like sell things you that I didn't want to have to part with: cars, a boat. I mean, I had to file Chapter Seven. Why did this happen?"
Haywood says his next step is to go to small claims court to get what he says the VEC owes him, even though he says someone at the VEC told him that wouldn't work.
"The last lady that I talked to basically laughed in my face and said, go ahead and sue us, you won't win," said Haywood.
Haywood said that he has thought of what he would say if he had the chance to speak directly with VEC Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess.
"Why? How? How did you guys let this happen to those of us who were working,” Haywood said. “You seemed more like you just don't care. Like, it was an inconvenience."
When CBS6 asked VEC spokeswoman Joyce Fogg about Haywood's claim, she responded by email saying "Paid until the claim was exhausted. Did he earn wages while receiving unemployment?"
Haywood acknowledged that he picked up extra work for several weeks but did not file during that time, only refiling later. For months and months now, he has received absolutely nothing.
Crucially, he says, not a single document from the VEC says anything in his file was amiss.
CBS6 has asked repeatedly to speak with VEC Commissioner Hess, who has held the job for seven years and has been rebuffed each time. Governor Northam reappointed her to the position when he took office but would not commit to making her available.
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