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With frustrated people going unanswered, VEC opens fifth call center

Virginia Unemployment Commission
Posted at 6:38 PM, Jul 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 10:51:26-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The leader of the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) told a federal judge that she planned to add a fifth call center after the court received complaints of slow or no response times.

Virginia Eastern District Court District Judge Henry E. Hudson wrote in a court order on Friday that he’s received a number of telephone calls from individuals reporting complaints with the state agency.

“They reported that their calls were either unanswered, their messages not returned, or no response to their inquiry was received,” Hudson stated. “The Court is aware that similar complaints have been reported by the local press.”

Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess, who is currently the defendant in a lawsuit filed against the state, acknowledged these concerns in a phone conference on July 21.

Hess told Judge Hudson that VEC planned to establish an additional call center operated by a third party that would be staffed with 300 new adjudicators.

A VEC spokesperson told CBS 6 on Wednesday that the new center, where employees will work remotely, will be the fifth call center established to help Virginians with unpaid claims.

VEC could hire up to 500 employees to staff the most recent call center if needed, according to the court filing.

A Chester mother, who wanted her identity concealed, told CBS 6 she continued to get the runaround with VEC. She was laid off in April but May and June passed without receiving any benefits.

“I would wake up early in the morning call them right at 8 o’clock on the dot. It would say, ‘Representatives are busy, please try your call again later.’ At 8 o’clock in the morning?” she asked.

In April, Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Pat Levy-Lavelle and a number of non-profits helped five unemployed Virginians sue the VEC and Commissioner Hess.

His office continues to hear from individuals with issues connecting with a live person.

“We’ve heard from some people when they do get through the phone lines, depending on who they reach, it may be somebody who says they can’t tell a lot about their claim,” Levy-Lavell explained. “Claimants being able to access information has continued to be a concern of ours.”

The VEC said their backlog of unpaid claims dropped from approximately 92,000 to more than 23,000 since May 10.

“We certainly hope this contract makes a dent and improves things. That remains to be seen. We are concerned about people continuing to have trouble getting information, getting through on the phone lines,” Levy-Lavelle stated.

The VEC has until Labor Day to fulfill 95 percent of the backlog of unpaid claims.