HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Latest numbers out Thursday show 2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total number to 38 million claims since the pandemic started.
According to the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), more than 400,000 Virginians filed for unemployment benefits from mid-March to May 16.
Martinique, who asked we don’t use her last name, works in the industry that’s been hit the hardest by the COVID crisis. The state’s food service industry continues to report the highest number of unemployment claims. Last week alone, more than 92,000 food service employees filed for unemployment.
“In the beginning, it stressed me out a lot because my hours were cut to 11, and that’s just not sustainable for anyone,” said Martinique.
Martinique is a shift supervisor at Chick-fil-A. She said she was approved for partial unemployment benefits and for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program nine weeks ago and is still waiting for her first payment.
“At this point I just want to know what the holdup is,” she said.
Like so many others, Martinique has repeatedly called and emailed the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) without any luck.
“You can’t really get ahold of an actual person,” Martinique said. “I get it; there’s so many of us who have filed and I can only imagine how overwhelming it is, but we still need answers.”
Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) and his staff of one have been helping constituents like Martinique get those answers. So far, his office has helped more than two dozen people get their unemployment benefits.
“It is the non-responsiveness,” Miyares said. “It’s the black hole people are finding themselves in where they’re butting themselves up against the wall. They’re finding contradictory information on the websites. That is the frustration and they can’t even get a human being on phone to talk to people.”
That frustration boiled over for the lawmaker when he couldn’t get answers from the VEC.
“We have to deal with the same phone numbers everybody else deals with, so we’re on the phone for a long time just to get an answer ourselves, and that’s when I recognized that things have broken down,” said Miyares. “As delegate, when you can’t get an immediate answer and I’m an elected representative - boy, something’s really, really wrong.”
He’s now calling on the VEC commissioner to conduct a complete review of the unemployment system’s internal processes, communication and management. On Wednesday, Miyares sent a letter to Commissioner Hess outlining a list of recommendations on how to identify the problem and solve it. To read the letter, click here He’s also calling for the VEC to conduct a survey to track wait and response times of every person.
“Quite frankly, this is an accountability and communication failure at the VEC,” Miyares said. “I think this is one of my frustrations I see too often with government, whether it’s federal, state or local, which is there’s no sense of accountability; there’s no sense of responsiveness.”
The lawmaker said he’s planning on proposing legislation during a special session this summer that would possibly mandate the agency to respond to people reaching out within 48 hours.
Several calls and emails from News 3 to the VEC went unanswered.