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VEC prioritizing claim reviews and adjudication due to five-month backlog

More than 70,000 Virginians are still waiting for their unemployment claims to be reviewed. VEC expects to start working on July reviews by the end of this week.

NORFOLK, Va. — About 70,000 Virginians are waiting to see if they’ll receive unemployment benefits, and some have waited up to five months for their claim to be reviewed by Virginia Employment Commission staffers.

Due to unprecedented numbers of unemployment filers in April, May and June -- the Virginia Employment Commission claims adjudication process became backlogged, leaving many unemployment applicants in limbo.

Some unemployment claims require adjudication or case review, for reasons like missing information, contested claims, and employer disputes. 

For much of 2020, the Virginia Employment Commission prioritized installing new programs and getting benefits to eligible recipients. The PUA, PEUC and LWA programs all took extensive programming and flexibility to implement.

Now, VEC Deputy Commissioner for Unemployment Insurance Bill Walton said he's devoting more resources to claim reviews and adjudication.

“Since we now have all of our programs up and running, the issues of adjudications move to the top of our list, as far as our priorities are concerned," Walton said.

Walton said he expects the VEC will finally move to process claim reviews from July this week, and then that process will speed up. Claim adjudications are processed in the order in which they are received or flagged, meaning workers with contested claims from August until now are still waiting for a review.

“Now that we have lower claims volumes, the issues will reflect that as well," Walton said. "We should be able to pick up the pace and move through the calendar, so the older issues should start to be resolved more quickly.”

More than 1.4 million Virginians have submitted unemployment claims this year and VEC has paid out more than $9 billion in benefits.

At the start of the year, the Virginia Employment Commission projected it would handle a total of 95,000 claims.

“Those are numbers that are absolutely hard to get your head around," Walton said.

Walton added that he knows 70,000 Virginians need a speedy review of their unemployment claims.

“I also am very much aware that behind every issue that has yet to be resolved is a person who is waiting for an answer and they deserve an answer," Walton said. "We endeavor to work through all of those issues until everyone has a response.”

Even with claim reviews as the priority, Walton said new health restrictions and rising COVID-19 cases mean the agency is expecting more people will apply for benefits in the coming months.

“I don’t think it’s off base to say we’re going to see an uptick in claims," he said.

Currently, the Virginia Employment Commission receives about 10,000 initial unemployment claims each week. That's still about four times higher than pre-pandemic averages.