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No updates, no money: Dad endures unemployment benefits mishap

Posted at 10:38 AM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 18:43:53-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Baltimore man believes it would have taken just one phone conversation with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) to clear up a multi-month mishap.

The mishap, which involved several employment commissions in three localities, left him without unemployment benefits since September.

"It's been terrible, to say the least," Jeremiah Ford said. "Ever since August -- the end of August has been a nightmare up until now."

Ford said the last few months he has spent most of his days helping his son with virtual Kindergarten and making countless calls to the VEC.

"I have to at least make things look okay for my son because he doesn't fully understand," said Ford.

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Once a stagehand, Ford’s been without work since March 2020, when shows closed due to the pandemic.

From March until August, he said he was getting unemployment benefits from the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES) -- where he did most of his work.

But in September, that came to a screeching halt after Ford said he was told by the DOES that he had out-of-state wages in Maryland and Virginia that needed to be resolved.

"It took them about four months before they even let me know," said Ford.

In January 2021, Ford tried to file with Virginia.

But four months later, after making hundreds of phone calls, Ford still had no updates and no money.

"I almost do it every day, at least about 10 to 15 times just to see if maybe today's my day," said Ford. "To get to where I need to speak with someone -- it never goes through. Like it hasn't went through yet. I've never spoken to anyone."

That was until last week when Ford said he finally got an email back from the head of the Virginia Employment Commission -- taking him right back to where he started -- his claim re-opened in D.C.

"Me speaking to one person could have alleviated all of this," said Ford.

Pat Levy-Lavelle, a lead attorney in a class-action lawsuit filed against the VEC in mid-April, said since filing the lawsuit, they'd heard from hundreds of people experiencing similar situations.

He said those issues included situations where people received no response and no money when making a claim, or benefits that stopped with no warning.

"If there's an issue on somebody's claim, or certainly if the VEC wants to deny benefits, or withhold benefits, the Constitution requires something pretty basic called due process. And part of that is notice -- which is basically a person being told what's going on with their case," said Levy-Lavelle.

For people in need of help with the VEC, he recommended going to the Legal Aid Justice Center's website and sharing your story. He also recommended contacting the Governor's office and reaching out to local legislators.

"Hopefully build pressure towards changes in the system," said Levy-Lavelle.

He said the VEC had until May 7 to respond to the lawsuit.

As for Ford's case, CBS 6 reached out to the VEC and the Department of Employment Services and received no response.

CBS 6 also reached out to the Governor's office for advice or guidance on what people who were not receiving the benefits they believe they were owed should do.

Megan Healy, the Governor's Chief Work Force Advisor, responded by encouraging anyone who was coming up on their annual anniversary of unemployment to make sure they fill out the proper paperwork which was required by law.

"If a person has been on unemployment benefits for a year, USDOL is requiring each person to reapply for benefits. The VEC must have an adjudication officer review the new application, deny the application, upload the documentation and then extend last year's benefit year. Extending last benefit's year instead of starting a new benefit's year doesn't add extra taxes to businesses. Because of the large amounts of people ending a whole year of benefits, this process takes around 7-10 days a person and back pay is awarded. This is another example on how the federal government makes administering the unemployment program challenging."

For those not receiving initial benefits, Healy added there could be multiple reasons for this.

"Anyone who applies for benefits receives three pieces of mail one saying they applied, one with a monetary benefit which says IF ELIGIBLE this is how much your weekly benefit is and another document with a PIN. Many people think since they received the monetary benefit they are eligible for benefits and this is not the case which is very confusing. If an employer says a person quit their job or were fired due to cause, a person is not eligible for benefits. We also encourage everyone to file a weekly income report which can be done but does again not make someone eligible."

Healy added that benefits could not be given to anyone who has a health condition and can not work.

In the meantime, Ford said since hearing back from the VEC on Friday, he’s also now heard from the DOES, and said he's been told he'll receive his benefits out of D.C. by Wednesday. He said he was cautiously optimistic.

Ford's story is part of a special edition of Rebound Richmond in which we examine the unemployment crisis in Virginia.

Not only are we talking to people struggling to get benefits, but we're diving deep with analysts who break down how Virginia compares to the rest of the U.S. (it's not good).

In-depth coverage begins on the CBS 6 News at 5.

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