RICHMOND, Va. -- A Petersburg woman reached out to the CBS 6 Problem Solvers, after waiting for months for an unemployment check and unable to get in contact with the Virginia Employment Commission.
This, as a group of Virginians filed a class action lawsuit against the leader of the VEC Thursday, alleging “gross failures" to provide needed help as required by law amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"It’s really, really hard. It is," said Jennifer Spratley.
Spratley said she had been staying in a hotel, living week-to-week reliant on unemployment benefits.
Thursday afternoon she said she'd exhausted her options and didn't know where to turn.
"You can never get in touch -- I don't care what time of day you call, when you call, you can't get nobody," said Spratley. "You get no feedback at all from them. No feedback. You’re left in the dark."
Spratley said her hours were cut at work at the start of the pandemic, and she was officially let go in January.
She said she had been receiving unemployment benefits from the Virginia Employment Commission for the past year, but a February check amounting to more than $1600 went into another account.
"I don't know how they got that account. I don't know where they got that account from. But it was not mine," said Spratley.
Since February, Spratley said she’s called the VEC more than 100 times, emailed and even mailed a letter to no avail. The only way she had been able to get in contact is through a chat system -- which she said wasn't helpful.
"They just telling me the same thing. You have to wait until the bank rejects it, you have to wait until the bank rejects it. And I keep telling them -- this has been since February," said Spratley.
Spratley isn't alone. CBS 6 receives countless emails and phone calls from viewers who can’t get through to the VEC.
An April WalletHub report showed Virginia ranked last among all 50 states in unemployment claims recoveries.
"Every other jurisdiction has done better," said Pat Levy-Lavelle, Attorney at the Richmond office of Legal Aid Justice Center.
Levy-Lavelle, a lead attorney in the lawsuit against the VEC, said they’d seen multiple problems with the handling of unemployment cases, but hoped to tackle two in particular.
"One is that people apply for benefits -- and they end up, in many cases, being forced to wait a long time for issues on their cases to be decided. So that's one problem," said Levy-Lavelle. "The other problem that this case tries to tackle is that we've seen a lot of folks who have started getting benefits, and then those benefits are cut off without any kind of notice, or hearing. And federal law is clear that once benefits have started, based on a determination of initial eligibility, they're supposed to continue until a deputy decides that they're not supposed to be paid."
Levy-Lavelle added that he'd spoken to countless people who couldn't get in touch with the VEC and called on the state and Governor Ralph Northam to address these problems.
"At the end of the day, families are suffering, things need to change, and we're going to push for that change," Levy-Lavelle said.
CBS 6 reached out to the Virginia Employment Commission for comment on both the lawsuit and Spratley's case, and got the following response from a spokesperson:
"No comment on the lawsuit. We do not comment on individual claims. I will try to have someone take a look."
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