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Unemployment benefit delays reported, despite new online portal, low claims

Unemployed workers who lost their jobs in October and November said they’re still waiting on approvals and payments, while the VEC undergoes a leadership change.

NORFOLK, Va. — Some Virginians say they’re still struggling to get unemployment benefits, despite a new online portal and system changes. 

The Virginia Employment Commission reports weekly unemployment claims have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Plus, Virginia leaders said an online unemployment portal - activated in November - would help resolve issues with claims, reduce delays, and get out benefits more quickly. 

However, some people who recently lost their jobs said these factors are still not making it any easier to get benefits.

"I think it’s just as bad, I think it’s just as bad as it was before," said Karen Monk, a Yorktown woman who was laid off just before Thanksgiving.

Monk said she never received a PIN in the mail, the online portal is frequently down for maintenance, and she’s still waiting on a deputy to review her claim.

"All they keep saying is, 'Be patient, there are a lot of claims and you’ve got to wait,'" she said. "I said I’ve been waiting two months and haven’t seen a dime."

About 1,940 people filed new unemployment claims last week. That's close to a pandemic weekly low.

Despite a small spike in claims that correlated with the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Virginia, unemployment claims have been at or below pre-pandemic averages over the last 3 months. 

RELATED: VEC commissioner out of the job

The VEC said it’s reviewing claims for legitimacy and eligibility, but claimants argued it shouldn’t take this long to resolve flagged issues.

Monk, who said she previously worked at the VEC for 5 years, believes the process should be improved by now.

"That just tells you," she said. "I used to work there and I still can’t get my money, it's frustrating."

Another woman told 13News Now she's had persistent issues with identity verification since submitting a claim for benefits in October, and she's still waiting on a deputy review.

Adding to the confusion, the Virginia Employment Commission is changing leadership. Governor Glenn Youngkin removed VEC Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess from her position last week. 

Virginia’s new Secretary of Labor, Bryan Slater, is now in charge of the overhaul of the Virginia Employment Commission after a state watchdog group found numerous problems with the VEC’s operations during the pandemic.