RICHMOND, Virginia (WRIC) – The Virginia Employment Commission has processed a massive backlog of controversial claims, but lawyers say long wait times are a growing problem for those trying to appeal an initial denial.
As a result of a class action lawsuit, a Labor Day deadline was set to process 92,000 more complex jobless claims before May 10th. These cases included those waiting for an initial eligibility determination and those whose benefits were abruptly withdrawn without explanation.
Legal Aid Justice Center’s attorney Pat Levy-Lavelle said the state is faster to resolve the 10,000 or so problems added since May. However, he said those denied service at the vicarious level encounter a major barrier at the first level appeal. He said the judge overseeing the settlement becomes increasingly aware as the next steps are considered.
The judge denies efforts by the Virginia Employment Commission to dismiss the complaint for delays in unemployment benefits
In an interview on Friday, Virginia’s Labor Secretary Megan Healy estimated that the state is handling more than 100,000 appeals.
The latest data from the US Department of Labor shows Virginia is the third slowest of the states and territories when it comes to settling lower government appeals. On average, it took 274.6 days – well above the federal standard of 30 days or less.
“That waiting period has lengthened over the course of the pandemic, and the fact that people are now waiting nine months or more for a chance to benefit in some cases when denied proxy is a real problem for Virginians who are trying to survive day after day, ”said Levy-Lavelle. “I think that’s one of the main problems right now.”
There are several reasons someone might be turned down at the first stage of the process, according to Levy-Lavelle. He said you would hear from many people denied allegations of failing to submit proof of income documents. Others have been caught up in employer disputes over whether they left voluntarily or were fired.
“At the appeal review level, they have a broader opportunity to tell, testify, and produce their side of the story. These cases are constantly being picked, ”Levy-Lavelle said.
Pandemic unemployment programs ending Saturday in Virginia
Richmond’s mother of two Teneé White, 36, appealed on October 26, 2020. Her attorney told 8News that she was initially disqualified for allegedly quitting voluntarily, but claimed she was on leave.
White, who is pregnant with a third child, said the uncertainty caused a lot of stress.
“I had to deal with the eviction court. I had to use help with the rental. So it was a lot, ”said White. “Right now it’s like someone saw my case? Is it just sitting on someone’s desk? Has it been devastated? Does anyone even know that I exist? Like 9 or 10 months has passed in a full year and I haven’t heard anything, so just poor communication about what they are doing to help. ”
Healy said appeals related to employer disputes are common, especially because a company’s taxes typically go up when an employee becomes unemployed. She said these cases are very complex and take a long time to sort through.
This is one of the reasons appointments need more experience, which further complicates the hiring process. She said the state currently has 35 of these officials and they are trying to double that.
“The hiring was challenging, but we know our next big step is to hire more appointment officers,” said Healy. “We reached out to every single law school in Virginia.”
Levy-Lavelle said some states had moved staff from other agencies. Others use private law firms to help. He said the state may need to get creative to make progress in this area.
Regarding the class action lawsuit, Levy-Lavelle said both parties have until September 24 to complete a status report detailing the remaining issues and future benchmarks.