NORFOLK, Va. — The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is changing its policies to give claimants benefits while the commission reviews their claims.
It used to be that if an unemployment insurance claim was in dispute, the Virginian who was requesting payments had to wait for a ruling on their case to receive any money.
Now, if the issue isn't fixed in three weeks, people will receive weekly benefits while their cases are still in the process of being adjudicated.
However, if the commission decides their claim is invalid at the end of the process, that claimant will have to pay back the money they were given.
Junita Holley, an unemployed worker in Norfolk, said she was receiving benefits until August, when they stopped because of a contested claim with her former employer. She’s been waiting ever since.
“I’ve just been praying and I hoping I’m one of those people that they go ahead and give me my money and if I have to pay it back I’ll pay it back but I just want what’s rightfully mine right now," Holley said.
She said she believes she's one of tens of thousands of Virginians eligible to start receiving benefits again, but after months of waiting for VEC to resolve her case, she's not confident.
"It really hurts me, it hurts me that I can’t do nothing for my kids," Holley said. "Because at this point I’m begging, and I don’t like to beg anybody for anything.”
William Walton, the unemployment insurance director for the VEC, explained the impacts of the policy change in a December 10 letter.
"There will be individuals who will ultimately be overpaid," he wrote. "We will be communicating with those affected individuals by way of a notice sent through the U.S. Postal Service as well as through a text messaging campaign."
That letter said there are 75,000 claims waiting on adjudication that the change in payment policy could help. They plan to take this approach with all disputed claims by December 15.
Earlier in the year, the VEC had diverted staff from multiple divisions to handle a "historic" volume of unemployment insurance claims. Walton said the backlog of claims was almost taken care of.
"We have processed over 1,380,000 claims and only have a backlog of 168,000 remaining. We will eliminate this backlog later this month," he wrote.
While the commission pivots to focus experienced staff on problems with claims, they're planning to start with the oldest cases first.