RICHMOND, Va. -- New details regarding the class-action lawsuit filed in May 2021 against the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) showed that while the agency has made significant progress paying those who have spent months waiting for benefits, there are still tens of thousands of Virginians waiting.
A new status report filed by Legal Aid groups and its pro bono partners showed since May, the VEC has shrunk the backlog of around 90,000 people waiting on benefits to 40,000.
However, the groups estimated over the past two months, around 30,000 new claims have been added to the backlog.
This means the agency has only cleared up around 20,000 claims.
"A lot of folks are still out there waiting, wondering what's going on and needing emergency aid," Pat Levy-Lavelle, an attorney representing five of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, said.
The report also noted the VEC identified 4,189 claimants that had been waiting to receive benefits since March through June 2020.
While the agency just released payments to those individuals at the end of last month, Levy-Lavelle said this does not take back the damage caused as these Virginians waited more than a year without relief.
Legal Aid identified two other problematic areas where it appeared benefits were illegally cut off by the VEC:
- Cases where claimants were asked to provide proof of employment
- Cases where claimants were asked to complete a proof of identity process
The proof of identity process was launched at the end of May through a website called ID.me.
Some Virginians, like Charles Stallings, of Chesterfield, reported their benefits were stopped before receiving a link to upload documents to ID.me.
"It's just not right," Stallings said.
He said his benefits were cut off in May for no reason. The following week, he said he received an email that asked him to reapply for benefits and upload his identification to ID.me.
“I uploaded the documents, and then something on the screen came on to say that we will get back with you via email or phone within the next week," said Stallings. "Nobody has contacted me.”
After scheduling two phone appointments with the VEC and contacting ID.me, Stallings said he still can’t get answers.
"If you adhere to their protocol and do everything that they've asked you to do, what more is there to say?" he asked. "You're at the mercy of VEC.”
Legal Aid groups believe the VEC needs to speed up the payment process for backlogged claims.
"It seems in a lot of cases, the VEC is cutting people off and asking questions later," Levy-Lavelle said. "We think federal guidance is fairly clear that if people are getting benefits, they're supposed to keep getting them until there's due process.”
The VEC has previously noted it was ramping up staff, so it could hit the judge’s requirement of 20,000 claims processed a week by August.
"I know that they have said that they want to hit that 20,000 figure, the order requires it," said Levy-Lavelle. "I certainly hope and anticipate that they will."
If the VEC were to miss the mark and fall short of 20,000 claims a week in August, Levy-Lavelle said they would inform the judge.
When asked to update its staffing and processing of claims, a spokesperson for the VEC replied via email.
"I have no comment," the email read.