VIRGINIA, USA — Help is on the way for those unemployed who are seeking benefits.
It comes after a judge settled a class-action lawsuit against the Virginia Employment Commission Tuesday. The settlement comes after five Virginia women filed the suit against the VEC, alleging that the state agency denied them benefits.
The court order paves the way for the VEC to begin quickly processing unemployment claims.
Steven Fischbach, Litigation Director at the Virginia Poverty Law Center was among four other legal advocacy organizations who filed the lawsuit.
“It means that if they’re eligible for some kind of unemployment benefits, they’ll get it faster now. That’s the significance, and that’s huge. That’s why we filed the lawsuit,” said Fischbach.
The court order states that the VEC must clear 95% of the 92,158 unpaid claims awaiting adjudication by September 6th, 2021 (Labor Day). The VEC must clear unemployment insurance claims, pandemic unemployment assistance claims and pandemic emergency unemployment compensation claims.
According to a release from the Legal Aid Justice Center, the order will go into effect immediately and requires the VEC to:
- Ensure the elimination of the VEC adjudication backlog before September 6, 2021 (Labor Day).
- Accelerate the adjudication of claims to 10,000 cases weekly by July 1, 2021, and 20,000 cases weekly by August 1, 2021.
- Quickly and immediately process adjudications for many applicants who are covered by Pandemic Unemployment benefits but have had to first await adjudication.
- Identify and resume payments to those claimants who had been getting benefits but were improperly cut off.
- Require state identification and better coordination of various alternate housing, food, and income benefits available to applicants in financial difficulty.
- Subject the VEC’s new performance standards and deadlines to judicial supervision and require weekly information sharing to make that possible.
Fischbach said he began receiving complaints about the lack of payments as early as last summer. He said his organization tried to informally contact the VEC on behalf of people, then realized the program was far greater than they imagined.
"We didn’t just drop a dime on the VEC. We’ve been writing to them and trying to get them to address the problem since at least last November,” said Fischbach. “Had we not done this, people would be in limbo for much longer.”
In a statement, VEC Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess said:
“The VEC is grateful that Judge Hudson has recognized the hard work of our employees throughout this pandemic, and we will continue to ensure Virginians have access to all benefits for which they are eligible. The VEC is focused on serving our customers, and we are committed to continuing the important work our team is doing for their fellow Virginians.”
Hess said the state agency has recently hired a private sector partner with 300 additional staff to speed up efforts.
In the court order, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson acknowledged all the hardships the VEC has had to deal with over the last year.
Since March of 2020, the VEC has received 1.6 million claims, an all-time high and more than 10 times the amount from the previous years’ volume.
“We know how bad it’s been for families who are struggling, and we’re just pleased that their struggling at least has a foreseeable end, whereas before it didn’t,” said Fischbach.
The court order requires the VEC to report monthly updates on its progress, something Fischbach says will hold the state agency accountable.
“We’re gonna be getting constantly information as to how fast the backlog is disappearing, and there will be monthly reports about that,” said Fischbach. “At any time, we can go back to the court if VEC is not meeting the benchmarks that are in that order.”
Author's Note: The video below is on file from March 22, 2021.