'IT guy' can't navigate Virginia Employment Commission's website: 'It's kind of sad'

Posted at 6:19 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 11:10:26-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Fifty-eight-year-old Sal Fama is among the dozens of CBS 6 viewers who have contacted us about just how difficult -- impossible, really -- it is to navigate the Virginia Employment Commission website. Or phone line.

And he has a special skill set. But that, apparently, was not enough

"It's very, very frustrating because I like I said, I'm an IT guy," Fama said. "I understand that, you know programs go wrong, they go awry, they do this, they do that."

Fama pointed that put his line of work is sometimes project-based, so layoffs are not uncommon.

"I am a project manager, slash project coordinator, in the IT realm," he said. "I've been doing it for over 25 years, started off as a programmer and then moved into project management, and was laid off about a year ago last February."

He said he was sure someone with his background could figure out how to correct his problem which was like something out of "Groundhog Day."

"I went through the phone system, put it in, waited about three or four days, didn't see any checks so I said, 'well, let me call back in and see what's going on,'" he said. "And it asked me, again, to put in for the week ending February 13, 2021. So I did that, and at the end of the phone call it says, 'You've been confirmed.'"

Fama had been getting benefits on an off for the last year but could not understand why the system would accept his weekly work update, which claimants must supply each week about their availability for work and efforts to find it, but then nothing would happen.

Sal Fama

"A few days later, it again asked me for the same week ending 2/13/21, and I'm like, 'I've already done it twice. Alright let me do it a third time," said Fama. "So I did it a third time, waited another few days, did not get anything. So that's when I called you guys."

VEC spokesperson Joyce Fogg told us that claimants must start a new benefit year after they've been in the system for 52 weeks. So Fama thought he could fix his issue by correcting his profile online.

But he came upon several screens that he, someone quite familiar with computers and software, could not figure out. He checked off the programs he thought he was in, and should be in, and then was asked to submit more documents.

What documents?

He tried to call the VEC.

"I've been calling that number [the VEC 866 number]," Fama said. "And what happens there, is you get to a point where it says, 'all of our customer service people are busy. Call back another time.' So there's no prompting to say, leave a message, we'll call you back."

We've heard that before. With distressingly high frequency.

We went back to Fogg asking, how do you fix a situation like Fama's, which surely many claimants might face?

We got this emailed response: "You should not be enrolled in two programs. You have to apply for regular UI [unemployment insurance] first and be denied, before you can apply for PUA [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance]."

Fama thought he had been denied and thought he had applied for PUA.

But sorting that out, by say, actually speaking to a VEC caseworker, is apparently not going to happen.

"It's kind of sad, actually, because, you know, IT is IT," said Fama. "I understand problems happen, you can't get this to work or that to work. It's just very frustrating and unfortunate that they can't get things together, and at least respond, if not to me at least to you."

Fama points out that he is among the many lucky ones who received his unemployment benefits. But is again among the many, that when an issue crops up, resolution can be extremely elusive.