VEC opens phone appointments for Virginians with unemployment claim issues

Posted at 11:50 AM, Jun 17, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- Confusion and questions continue for Virginians relying on unemployment benefits with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).

Most recently, some claimed they weren't able to report their weekly job searches to the agency the first week the requirement was reinstated.

Beginning with the week of May 30 through June 5, people receiving benefits had to report two job searches a week to the VEC.

But when Middlesex resident, Mitch Johnson, went to do that, he said he wasn't given an option.

"When I went into the phone system, it did not prompt to ask for my job searches," Johnson explained. "It was the same recorded system that hadn't been updated since before the holiday."

VEC spokeswoman Joyce Fogg told CBS 6 late Thursday morning there has been some confusion about the first week of reporting job searches.

"When you file your weekly continued claim, it's for the prior week," Fogg explained. "So, the job search was reinstated May 30 through June 5, you would not report those job searches until you file your weekly continued claim on the next Sunday, Monday or Tuesday."

But Johnson is still waiting on three weeks of missing payments.

CBS 6 first reported Johnson’s VEC issues at the beginning of May. The former chef was laid off and had been waiting two months for a debit card with his unemployment benefits.

"It seemed that my situation, after I had to get behind it a little harder in talking with you, was taken care of quickly," said Johnson.

After his story aired, he finally received his debit card. But just three weeks ago, his payments randomly stopped.

"I ask you VEC, why can't you communicate with me, and explain to me why you make these decisions that impact my life?," he asked.

Now, Johnson is worried not being able to report his job searches the first week of June could delay his payments even longer.

“I don't know what hiccups this is going to cause in the system, and what excuse this is going to provide them for reasoning and why people aren't receiving funds," Johnson noted.

While he waits on his missing three weeks of payments, Johnson is looking forward to starting a job at a Food Lion deli later this month.

"Someone that's not lucky, like myself, to have been able to find work immediately, they're going to suffer," said Johnson.

That's the position Norfolk resident, Adrian Thayer, is in right now. She also randomly stopped receiving her unemployment benefits one month ago.

Thayer said she is actively searching for a job, but hasn't had any luck.

“I'm on the verge of losing my trailer," Thayer explained. “I don't understand how can they can send me my original 39 weeks without an issue every Wednesday in my bank account. And now all of a sudden, there's an issue, you can't send me my payments."

After learning there was a problem with her bank account, Thayer said she was able to work with a VEC representative to resolve that issue, but she still hasn't received her payment from the last four weeks.

She's completing the job search requirement and said she spends hours on the bus each day going to apply for jobs because she doesn’t have money for gas.

“I'll leave it here at 8:30 in the morning, or 8:15 to catch the 8:20 bus," Thayer explained. "I get downtown at 9. Wait for another bus there to get on that bus, travel another hour to get somewhere. Get off that bus, go do the application, wait another hour for the bus to come back. It's ridiculous."

Even after Thayer and Johnson get back to work, they said they’ll likely still be behind on bills until they receive their back pay from these missing weeks. But right now, they just want to know why this happened to them.

“Their refusal to provide accurate information to their decision-making is just unacceptable," said Johnson.

When asked about this, Fogg said one of the issues delaying payments is that on May 25, the agency began asking claimants to report their identification through a site called to cut down on fraud.

Thayer said she hasn’t received any notifications asking her to submit her ID.

"Claimants weren't all notified, you know, on May 25," said Fogg. "They are gradually getting texts, emails and letters saying, you need to go on here and you have 14 days to upload your information and a picture."

If you don’t submit that information, you could have a hold placed on their account, according to Fogg. But even after uploading their ID, some people claim they still missed payments.

“I've gotten a number of emails as well saying they didn't get their benefits this week," Fogg explained. "And they were mostly PUA claimants. So, I asked if we can look at that and see what's going on. And hopefully that will get smoothed out."

Fogg could not comment on why Johnson and Thayer’s payments were randomly stopped, but she did note another issue that often leads to holds on accounts is employers providing a new report. That can cause a claim to need to be reviewed again by VEC staff.

Meanwhile, the VEC is now opening 20-minute phone appointments to those struggling with their claim.

You can make an appointment on a first-come, first-served basis. By Thursday afternoon all of the appointments in the Richmond/Petersburg-region had been taken.

Fogg said that more appointments would be added on a daily basis two-weeks out.

NOTE: A previous version of this story indicated the claim appointments would be available in-person after a VEC spokesperson indicated that would be the case.