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Settlement Underway In Class Action Suit Over Unemployment Delays

Virginia Employment Commission in Richmond
Many Virginian's unemployment benefits aren't coming in time or haven't come at all. Legal aid groups sued the state last month over the delayed payments.  (Photo: Cirxell Matthews/VPM News)

The Virginia Employment Commission has begun settlement talks with residents who filed a federal class-action lawsuit over delays in their unemployment benefits. Last month, legal aid groups sued the head of the VEC on behalf of five Virginia residents. 

The federal judge hearing the case, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, has ordered the parties involved to find a solution immediately.  

Some Virginians who lost their jobs over a year ago are still waiting for their benefits.

Amy Graves was hired at a company in Midlothian early in the pandemic. She was on a 30-day probationary period while the company determined whether she was a good fit.  When that period ended in May, they let her go. 

“I applied right away, which was kind of a mess,” Graves said. “I had to submit things many times. There were some issues getting my pin number. I had a hard time getting a hold of anyone.”

Because Graves' situation wasn’t a traditional layoff, the commission had to investigate her case to prove she was qualified. She didn’t hear back that she’d been approved for another five months. And she still hasn’t received her money. 

In the meantime, Graves found several short-term jobs, none of which came close to paying her previous salary. She’s behind thousands of dollars and lost her car because she couldn’t afford the payments. 

“We’re just trying to move forward and make ends meet and put everything back together,” Graves said. 

Jeff Jones with Legal Aid Justice Center said the organization has had more than a thousand people reach out for help accessing their unemployment benefits. 

“People waiting since last year for something that is supposed to be emergency aid for people who are finding themselves unemployed with bills past due,” he said. 

He added there are various scenarios at play. Some individuals were receiving payments before having them cut off with no explanation. Some are experiencing months-long delays and others have been told there’s an issue with their claim and their eligibility is still in question. 

“The VEC has said multiple times publicly that their systems are very old,” he said. “To what degree that’s the problem versus staffing, versus training, unfortunately, the VEC needs to answer that one.”

A spokesperson for the VEC declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit.  

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows Virginia ranks last in the nation for processing unemployment insurance claims within 21 days.