HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Latest numbers out from the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) show the unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent in June, meaning there are fewer people out of work since the start of the pandemic.
Still, there are many questions surrounding the system.
After three months of waiting, equaling more than 14 weeks, Martinique finally got an answer from the state’s employment commission.
The agency’s response to her unemployment claim left her with even more questions.
“For them to say this is the amount you’ll get, to them now saying you’re not going to get anything, I just didn’t understand,” Martinique said.
News 3 first met the 34-year-old in May. At that point she’d been waiting nine weeks since first filing for partial unemployment benefits on March 22. One week later, Martinique said the VEC sent her a monetary determination letter stating what her weekly benefits would be.
After dozens of failed attempts to reach the VEC, she finally heard back from the agency on June 20. The VEC sent a brief email stating Martinique earned more money than the amount they approved her for, ultimately denying her for any benefits.
“They closed my entire account, so I don’t even have a file with them anymore,” she said.
Martinique, who is a shift supervisor at Chick-fil-A, said, while she may have made more money in some weeks, there were other weeks where she didn’t. In those instances, she should have qualified for some monetary compensation.
“I still feel as if I should have been sent something, but like I said they’re not going to send me anything now,” said Martinique. “It’s kind of a joke.”
A spokesperson for the governor’s office, who works closely with the VEC, admits something could have went wrong, and is now personally looking into Martinique’s case.
Meantime, the VEC said it should be easier for people to get through to customer care. Over the past two weeks, more employees have been hired helping to double the amount of calls they’re answering to 60,000 a week.
Still it’s not enough for 43 state legislators who sent a letter to VEC Commissioner Hess on July 16 calling for improvements and thorough review of its system by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC).
State legislators said they are prepared to support the VEC with additional funding, staffing, or legislation in future sessions of the General Assembly.
“This pandemic has shown significant gaps in our safety net programs, a glaring one being our unemployment system. We need to position the VEC to better serve Virginia employees. I look forward to continuing to work with VEC and my colleagues in implementing solutions for reform,” said Delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach).
The VEC responded in a letter saying it welcomes a more in-depth discussion and opportunities.
“We stand ready to work with you and other legislators to deal with these complex issues affecting workers and businesses across the Commonwealth and look forward to engaging in future conversations,” said VEC Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess.
The letter went on to say in part, “In 2017, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission was directed to review the VEC’s operations and performance. However, it is important to remember that the General Assembly directed the JLARC to prioritize studies on gaming and casinos ahead of the VEC review. Consequently, JLARC has not yet begun its review of VEC. We look forward to assisting JLARC staff in their review of the Commission’s operations and performance. VEC staff members have a good working relationship with JLARC staff, and we value their expertise.
“In the meantime, the VEC has undertaken significant efforts to improve delivery of services, streamline processes and better serve the public while still operating within the complex framework of state and federal laws. We have expanded call-center facilities, initiated third-party technology partnerships and begun a modernization of our digital platforms.”
Martinique believes the VEC’s system should be reexamined.
“I still kind of want to know why everything is just so backwards,” she said. “What is the point of having this in place if you’re really not going to help.”
Individuals who have been denied for unemployment benefits are urged to file for an appeal, and to apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.