HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Many people trying to get unemployment benefits are frustrated by the system in the state of Virginia.
It’s been a rough few months for freelance technician Brent Hobin.
“In a matter of three days, 90% of my work just vanished. Everything got shut down - and I mean everything from television production, to live concerts... I was working for the symphony and that vanished,” said Hobin. He said he has been struggling.
He filed for unemployment but said he can’t get through to the Virginia Employment Commission about the status of his case. He said every time he tries to call, the phone gets disconnected.
“The government needs to strive to be accountable to the people it serves. My frustration would be when I would call the numbers, my constituents couldn’t get through and I couldn’t get through, so that was a red flag for me and nobody could get answers,” said Delegate Jason Miyares (R), 82nd District.
The latest numbers from the VEC show that the total number of initial claims filed from mid-March through the end of May were nearly 800,000.
That’s no surprise to Senator Bill DeSteph. He said each day, his office receives between 100 and 200 calls and emails from desperate people in need of help.
“If you heard the stories, it would rip your heart out of your chest: 'I’m a mom with four kids or a dad with four kids, and I can’t afford to feed my kids,'" said DeSteph.
He said the system is seriously overwhelmed and he has been working with his connections at the VEC to help people get answers. He’s also hired four additional staff members to field calls in his office.
“We’re overwhelming a system that normally takes 5,000 people a week; you’re doing 10 times to 20 times that in a week,” said DeSteph.
VEC told News 3 they’ve hired an additional 450 people. They say they have expanded their hours of operation, expanded their call centers and have paid out about two thirds of the overall claims that have come in. They said they are doing the best they can with the resources available and the rules they must follow in accordance with the Department of Labor.
They said in some cases, people don’t realize they aren't eligible for unemployment because they quit their jobs, have committed fraud in the past or owe large amounts of child support.
They said others have entered wrong Social Security numbers or other wrong information, which causes problems. They said they are currently redoing their website to make it more user-friendly.
They admit there are problems and understand why people are frustrated.