CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- During the pandemic - the Virginia Employment Commission came under heavy criticism for sometimes months-long delays in getting benefits to hundreds of thousands of Virginians.
As the economy has recovered, that issue has died down, but one that remains is resolving appeals when benefits are denied, particularly how brutally long the process takes.
As one Chesterfield mother knows, even when you win your case you can still wait months and months.
“When I checked in on Friday, they said that my FMLA had ended because my mom had passed away and that I was to return to work after three days,” said Kristen Franck. “I couldn't do that because my mom was being buried in New York state.”
Franck was abruptly fired from her job at a health care provider in August of 2020, at the height of the pandemic after she'd taken leave to care for her dying mother.
Because her time off had been authorized under the Family Medical Leave Act, she filed for unemployment benefits with the VEC.
That began her frustrating odyssey with the VEC that continues today, some 20 months later.
“I thought, well, you know, it might take a couple of weeks, it might take a month, maybe two months,” Franck said. “Maybe they're overwhelmed. They said they were overwhelmed. They were in a pandemic.”
Six months after filing each week for benefits, she got a letter in February of 2021 that her claim was denied. But she didn't give up.
“So a couple of weeks later, I sent in the appeal,” said Franck. “I did everything I needed to do and sent in the appeals but I haven't heard anything. So I keep filing, I keep waiting to hear something.”
Another long wait was underway, this one to hear about her appeal.
Nine months later, some fifteen months after her initial claim, she finally heard from the VEC.
“I didn't hear anything until November of 2021 that I would be having an appeals hearing in January ,” Franck said.
Franck's hearing was January 3.
At the end of the month, she was notified that she had won, that the VEC now owes her thousands of dollars in benefits.
But now, three months later, well, you can probably guess: more waiting.
“One lady said ‘well, they just reversed in your favor. You need to give them a couple of weeks.’ Okay, so I give them a couple of weeks,” said Franck. “I called and I asked, ‘what's going on?’ and they're like, ‘well, we're still waiting for a deputy to sign off on it.’ All right, fine, give them a couple more weeks.”
Despite the months of paperwork Franck had been providing the VEC, something kept going wrong.
“They can't verify my information,” said Franck. “Now I asked them about this, and they said that it's a known bug in their new system. While their new system launched in November, I would think they would have gotten some of these bugs worked out by now.”
The Chesterfield mother with children all under twelve says it's frustrating to know the money is just sitting there, waiting on a deputy to sign off on her case.
“My old job was a very good-paying job, and the money would be very helpful for things, just general things, bills,” Franck said. “We have three kids, and most of the financial responsibility is falling on my husband and it would make things a little bit easier.”
When I asked Franck if she had a message for the folks at the VEC she simply said to please fix it.
“I don't want to wish bad things on anybody, and I hope they never have to go through this,” she said. “I have had to wait so long. I hope none of this would ever happen to anybody.”
I asked VEC spokesperson Joyce Fogg about Franck’s appeal.
I also asked just how long Virginians should expect to wait for their money after they win an appeal and the examiner decides the VEC was wrong in denying the claim.
Fogg did not respond.
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