VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Recent unemployment claims in the state have decreased since the start of the pandemic, but many claimants are still waiting on benefits and answers from the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).
Gail Jimenez, 28, said after she was laid off from Dogtopia, a doggie daycare, in March, she received three weeks of unemployment benefits. Then suddenly, she said payments stopped.
“I didn’t get a phone call; I didn’t get a letter, nothing,” Jimenez said. “I didn’t get any type of notification from the VEC, what was going on or what was happening until now when I reached out to you [News 3].”
News 3 helped put Jimenez in touch with the agency.
Turns out, the monetary determination letter she got in the mail in April was only to show what she would be eligible for.
“I am so stressed, and I feel like I’m being tossed around in circles,” said Jimenez. “I feel like somebody is telling me one thing, somebody is telling me something.”
Jimenez was told she didn’t work long enough at Dogtopia before COVID shut down the economy. The VEC now must base her eligibility on her previous employer.
Jimenez was told she’d have to wait seven to eight weeks for a hearing, joining a pool of 80,000 other claimants also waiting for case reviews.
“I didn’t choose to be affected by COVID,” she said. “Just the reason they’re telling me, it doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t seem fair.”
The VEC communications manager said they are hiring even more people to work on hearings. To speed up the process, the VEC said they condensed the full-fledged hearings to a “fact-finding interview.”
Unemployment Insurance Director for the VEC Bill Walton said the sheer volume of claims is still one of the reasons for delays.
“With thousands of job refusals that are coming in, over 30,000 cases where someone has been terminated or discharged, over 50,000 voluntary quits we are adjudicating,” he said. “We have to go through that administrative process before we can pay or deny benefits.”
During a media briefing on Thursday, commission staff said the top reasons why applicants may not receive benefits payments, or why benefits payments stopped, include:
- A person did not file a weekly certification.
- The previous employer reported the person was fired for misconduct, took a leave of absence or quit without good cause.
- A person provided an incorrect Social Security number or incorrect banking information.
- A person earned wages that were equal to or exceeded their maximum weekly benefit amount.
- A person has exhausted their benefits for the benefit year prior to the pandemic.
Jimenez, in the meantime, was able to go back to work this week, but her hours were cut in half.
“It’s not even enough for the groceries,” Jimenez said. “My light at the end of the tunnel was the help I was supposed to get from you guys [VEC], and I couldn’t even get that.”
If a hearing officer finds Jimenez does qualify for benefits, she will get back pay.
According to the VEC, 115 new hires will start next week to handle emails. They said of the 822,300 unemployment claims that have been filed since March 15, approximately 75% of the people have been approved and received payment.