The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is on track to finish adjudicating outstanding unemployment insurance claims that were pending as of May 10th, Commissioner Ellen Hess said on Thursday. A settlement in a lawsuit against the VEC requires the backlog of 92,158 claims to be resolved by Labor Day.
“As of June 5, 66,966 claims remain in this effort,” Hess told the Commission on Unemployment Compensation, a joint commission with legislators from both chambers.
“We’re really hoping to have the work completed prior to September 6th. We’re really pushing hard to get that done,” she said.
Hess updated the legislators on efforts to expand both the VEC’s claims processing capacity and its call center capacity. She said that normally, hearing officers who adjudicate claims take 18 months to train. Instead of trying to train new officers on all of the potential issues, they’re focusing on training officers on individual issues.
“We are also going through the work and looking for any claims that are in that [66,966] that can be resolved without an adjudication,” she said.
Senator Lionell Spruill, Sr. (D-Chesapeake) said he is hearing from a lot of constituents that they’re having trouble getting in touch with the VEC by phone or getting responses. He asked, “Do we have enough staff to make sure this stuff is done by September 6?”
Hess replied, “We are confident that we have enough staff to get through the adjudications prior to September 6. As far as folks being able to get through to the call center and getting calls back and getting responded to, we have continued to add staff from the beginning of the pandemic.”
She said they are still adding call centers. But more staff to take calls won’t solve the whole problem.
“We’re doing the work to get folks to be able to get on the phones to talk to constituents, but the truth of the matter is they don’t really want to talk to anyone at VEC. They want their benefits and so what we’re trying to do is get through the adjudications. We’re adding adjudicators just like we’re adding folks to the phone,” she said.
Other legislators also said many of their constituents were having trouble getting responses. Delegate Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) asked the VEC to start weekly reporting on the number of outstanding claims to help keep track of new claims as well as those in the May 10 backlog.
Hudson described the report: “How many claims are older than four months, how many claims are older than three, two, one? Because if someone gets stuck in this queue again in early June, then come September 6th, they’d still be stuck for three months.”
Hess also updated the legislators on the VEC’s information technology modernization project, including a call center update and more automation. She said the final phase, an online customer portal, will go live October 1st.
“We have included a lot of functionality that will allow customers to get some self-service through a portal,” she said.
– – –