RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) –By tomorrow, roughly 58,000 Virginians who have been waiting to receive unemployment insurance payments will finally get their claims processed, according communication between the Legal Aid Justice Center and the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).
“We are working with the oldest claims first and will continue to process batches of issues until all identified continued claims have been addressed similarly,” VEC Deputy Commissioner William O. Walton, Jr. wrote in a letter to Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Pat Levy-Lavelle. “We expect to complete this for all affected individuals by December 15, 2020.”
Benefits are distributed shortly after a claim is processed by the VEC. Joyce Fogg with the VEC says, “over 45,000 were paid last week. Payments are ongoing.”
According to a release, on Nov. 6, Legal Aid Justice Center, Legal Aid Works, Virginia Poverty Law Center, and pro bono partners sent a letter to the VEC asking that they fix problems with the unemployment insurance program, or face a class action lawsuit.
“The sudden economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a historic spike in unemployment and unemployment insurance claims across the nation, but also here at home in Virginia,” Levy-Lavelle said in a release. “It became immediately apparent that many Virginians were not receiving a timely determination of eligibility to receive benefits, with many people waiting months.”
In data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Virginia recently ranked last of all 50 states in the speed with which it processed nonmonentary determinations.
Legal Aid Justice Center officials say there are residents of the commonwealth who have had their benefits halted, often with little to no explanation. Those residents must then wait for a formal judgement to be made on their case, which could mean months without pay, until a decision is made.
“Some people receiving benefits had their benefits summarily and unlawfully cut off, without the chance to first have a hearing and tell their side of the story,” Levy-Lavelle said. “This group will now have the opportunity to receive unemployment benefit payments while they wait for a decision.”
There are multiple ways in which Virginians who may actually be eligible for unemployment benefits get caught up in the system without payment.
For some, they are found eligible right away and begin receiving benefits. But later, the VEC might detect a problem with the application or the employer could later claim the person is not eligible. For example, this happens when an employer makes a claim after the application has been approved that their former employee no longer works for them because their job was terminated for a fireable offense.
“They should get a notice and a quick hearing. Again, the hearings are not happening quickly and people are waiting and waiting for benefits,” Economic Justice Program Legal Director Brenda Castaneda said. “It is this last problem that we alleged was contrary to the Constitution and federal law, and VEC agreed and began restarting benefits as of December 7 for folks who have been waiting, according to their letter.”
Other issues include a convoluted application process, which can leave claimants accidentally filling out information that raises a flag at the VEC. In another instance, self-employed Virginians are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, which may be confusing to many residents. Those who are self-employed are instead eligible for the CARES Act Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) payments.
Further issues can arise when a claimant first applies for unemployment insurance and a request is triggered for the employer to verify that the person actually worked there and was not fired for cause.
“If the employer raises a flag, the person’s benefits may not start. Again, they should receive a notice about this and a quick opportunity to have a hearing where they can present their side of the story,” Castaneda said. “This is not always happening quickly, because of the volume of claims.”
According to a letter from the VEC, however, thousands of unemployment insurance program applicants who have been caught up in the system without pay for several months, will, have their claims processed by Dec. 15. The benefits due to them should start appearing in bank accounts shortly after their claim is processed.
Another 22,000 claims will be processed after Dec. 15.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Upon further reporting, 8News learned that not all outstanding employment benefits will be distributed by December 15. About 58,000 claims currently waiting to be evaluated by the VEC due to job “separation issues” will be processed by that date. Payments will be distributed quickly after claims are processed.