Chesterfield man loses unemployment benefits as VEC struggles with demand

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A Chesterfield man is speaking out after he unexpectedly lost his unemployment benefits.

Thom Bartek, like thousands of others, was furloughed in March from his job as a shift manager at Zoe’s Kitchen. Bartek started receiving unemployment benefits from the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) in April. Then those benefits came to a sudden halt with a letter he received from the commission about two weeks ago. 

“It said there was an issue with my claim…that I had failed to return to work,” Bartek told 8News. “Obviously, I can’t return to work when the business is still closed.”

Signs on the door of the Zoë’s Kitchen on Huguenot Road reveal the store is still closed. Bartek sent the letter back to VEC and continuously called their customer service line, with no luck. When called, an automated voice says all representatives are busy and the line hangs up. 

Bartek told 8News that’s when he got in contact with the State Monitor Advocate and the Governor’s Office, providing them with documentation that showed his employer was still closed. 

Thom Bartek

“The Governor’s office told me, ‘You’ll just have to wait two months. First come, first served thing,'” Bartek said. 

A spokesperson for the Virginia Employment Commission told 8News that 75 percent of claims have been paid. The remaining 25 percent have outstanding issues and VEC is required by law to make a formal decision on those issues.

But that isn’t much solace for Bartek, who is left feeling frustrated and let down by the delay. He’s been in touch with his local congressmen to alert them to the issue. 

“I really worry about not just myself but so many other people that are in this situation where there’s an issue, you can’t do anything, you can’t talk to anyone, ‘just wait two months.’ It’s really unfortunate,” Bartek said. 

According to Bartek, there is a Facebook group with thousands of Virginians struggling with similar issues. 

As for VEC, they told 8News they have received more than 930,000 initial claims in the last 16 weeks and paid a total of $5.7 billion in benefits since the start of the pandemic. 

In the meantime, Bartek said he is working to organize a demonstration with other Virginians who are frustrated that they cannot get through VEC for help.

“It’s a really sad state of affairs,” he says, “when you can’t trust the government to really take care of you in a way that you expect.”

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