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Virginia delays new unemployment system until November, citing user testing and training needs

The Virginia Employment Commission now plans to roll out a new unemployment insurance system in November, with a blackout transition period set for late October.

NORFOLK, Va. — Virginia's big revamp of its unemployment system is delayed another month, with a rollout now planned for early November.

State leaders had previously told claimants that they hoped to have a new system live in early October. 

Megan Healy, Virginia Secretary of Labor, told 13News Now that state leaders decided to push back the transition of unemployment systems to conduct more "user testing and training" in the next couple of weeks to make sure "everything is in order."

The Virginia Employment Commission will need to shut down the current Unemployment Insurance system to transition all claimants over to the new program. 

That will create a multi-day blackout period during which claimants won't be able to file new or weekly claims, access their accounts or talk to agents for help. 

Unemployment benefits will be paid during the changeover period - as long as a claimant has certified their weekly claim ahead of time - and appeals will continue as usual.

The new UI system is promised to include modern upgrades, with better benefit applications and helpful documents online.

“More communication through this portal, very similar to 21st-century technology we’re really used to these days, so I think that’s going to be very helpful," said Healy in an interview with 13News Now last week. "We know this is definitely a need."

State leaders have worked on an unemployment system overhaul for years, and a planned rollout in June 2020 was delayed due to the pandemic and an unprecedented number of unemployment benefits claims.

After a year and a half of persistent issues due to the overwhelming claim volume, claimants will now wait at least another month to see a new system in action.

"I look forward to the new system for everyone’s sake, hopefully, it will work, but now we’re looking at another month at least down the line and then you’re not going to be able to file your weekly claims while they’re doing that overhaul," said Helen D'Amuro, an unemployment claimant in Norfolk. "So, I think it’s going to present a lot of people a lot of problems.”

D’Amuro is currently waiting on information from the VEC about her claim, her benefit eligibility, and a change in her banking account information.

"If you’re trying to find out if there’s an issue with your claim it’s virtually impossible to get through to them," she said.

VEC leaders said the new UI will help with claimant assistance, making the process more user-friendly and decreasing the reliance on an overwhelmed call center system. That’s what D’Amruo is looking for.

"I hope it makes it easier for everyone," she said.

With the new system, the VEC will no longer need to rely on mailing important information like PINs to claimants. 

Leaders said it will also help adjudication officers who are reviewing a backlog of contested unemployment claims.

Enhanced unemployment benefit applications will create fewer needs for adjudicators to call and conduct "fact-finding interviews," Healy said, which are often time-consuming processes. 

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