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State commission releases final findings, recommendations, to addressing Virginia's unemployment system

Close to a billion dollars is estimated to have been issued in incorrect payments throughout the pandemic.

VIRGINIA, USA — A state commission released the final findings of its audit of Virginia’s unemployment system.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the system has been plagued by backlog issues leaving thousands of Virginians searching for answers and benefits. 

Monday's presentation with the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission started out with some positives: the percentage of unemployment-related calls that are answered are up, and the average wait time has improved since the last available data in June 2021. 

VEC backlogs also decreased since an interim September briefing, but potentially fraudulent claims and appeals increased.

The JLARC presentation focused on its final findings and subsequent recommendations. 

Ultimately, the report focused on understaffing and funding complications leading to a still overworked system.

One slide explained the following finding:

"VEC lacks a resiliency plan to help the agency effectively plan for periods of high unemployment."

Funding

"Funding for VEC's UI operations has fluctuated with economic conditions, which made it challenging for VEC to maintain staffing and improve systems."

This investigation highlighted common themes of inefficient allocation of funding, due in part many practices and procedures being paper and manual based with the agency. 

"VEC's inefficient operations have put it at a disadvantage in the federal funding formula for UI operations and have prevented it from spending the operational funding it receives as efficiently and effectively as possible." 

Understaffing

 Another common theme through the final report is understaffing.

In some roles where supervisors should oversee a staff of less than 15 or even 8, "many" VEC supervisors have more than 20 direct reports. 

In fact, five call center supervisors reportedly oversee a full-time staff of 40-60.

In total, JLARC's report includes 40 recommendations to help the VEC better manage unemployment claims. Some of these recommendations call on help from Virginia lawmakers in the general assembly.

These recommendations come on the same day the VEC's online benefits system temporarily goes offline to help the agency transition to a more modern interface and usability for Virginians, which is expected to take several days. 

A commission member from JLARC asked that the Virginia Employment Commission have some kind of update on the progress of these recommendations in time for their next meeting in December. 

The full presentation through JLARC can be viewed on the state General Assembly's streaming page.

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