Despite VEC’s progress resolving unemployment claims, legal aid groups warn of growing ‘newer backlog’

Virginia News

Virginia Employment Commission (Photo 8News)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Employment Commission shared the agency’s progress on clearing a massive backlog of unemployment claims Thursday, revealing in a court filing that more than 52,000 cases have been adjudicated since a federal class-action lawsuit was settled in late May.

While commending the VEC’s efforts, legal aid groups representing the Virginians named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend more work needs to be done and “a newer backlog of claims requiring adjudication is very likely growing.”

The parties could have filed a joint status report if they agreed on the details, but concerns over the numbers in VEC’s update led the plaintiffs’ counsel to opt for a separate filing Thursday.

According to the legal settlement entered on May 25, the VEC was ordered to resolve at least 95% of the unpaid claims that were in dispute as of May 10 by Labor Day (Sept. 6). The VEC was also ordered to adjudicate 10,000 claims a week by July 1 and 20,000 a week by Aug. 1.

Attorneys for VEC Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess, the defendant named in the lawsuit, wrote in their filing that the number of claims awaiting adjudication went from 92,158, the total as of May 10, to 39,925 as of the week ending June 26. They added that VEC wasn’t aware of any disagreement between the parties and was “hopeful” for a joint update.

The team of legal aid groups and law firms that filed the lawsuit on behalf of five Virginia residents wrote in their own court filing that unresolved claims continue to pile up, despite the progress made, and questioned whether VEC would be able to reach the weekly standard of resolving 10,000 cases by Thursday.

Basing their estimates on public data, the plaintiffs’ counsel wrote “at least 30,000 new claims have been added to the deputy adjudication backlog since May 10” and claimed the actual net reduction was likely less than 10,000.

Pat Levy-Lavelle is a lawyer for the Legal Aid Justice Center, a group working alongside the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Legal Aid Works, Consumer Litigation Associates and Kelly Guzzo, PLC, on behalf of the plaintiffs. He told 8News the VEC has focused on adjudication rates and going through the 92,158 case backlog, whereas the plaintiffs’ counsel believe the focus should be on the overall number of the deputy adjudication backlog.

“Ultimately, there is a lot of people, from members of the public to lawmakers, who want to see the situation resolved for anyone still waiting for their cases to be resolved,” Levy-Lavelle said in an interview Friday. “One way or another, Virginia is going to have to come to terms with the larger backlog of people waiting.”

In their court filing, the plaintiffs’ counsel stated that VEC has been unwilling to share information on the current backlog. “VEC representatives are aware that the backlog can be roughly calculated from public data, so we can only assume that they would provide the precise number if that number were favorable,” they wrote.

A VEC spokeswoman declined to comment Friday. The agency’s status update says the parties have met in person twice since May 25 and VEC has added 100 contract adjudicators and expects 170 to 180 more to begin work in July.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the General Assembly’s watchdog agency, will provide a status update July 6 on its VEC study. JLARC agreed to share updates on the report in early May after lawmakers stressed it was a pressing issue for many of their constituents.

JLARC staff will present an interim report on the study on Sept. 20, two months before the final report is due.

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