NORFOLK, Va. - Over the past two years, News 3 has extensively covered reports about the Virginia Employment Commission. People have shared their frustration about the lack of communication and time spent wasted waiting for answers.
With complaints from viewers still coming in, Problem Solver Erin Miller wanted to see what changes have been made within the organization. For answers, she sat down with Commissioner Carrie Roth.
"We understand the frustration that [people] have had, many who are still waiting two years later," Roth said.
Roth was tasked with making changes within the system when she was appointed in January. She said he team has been taking a two-phase approach.
"So [with] our phase one, we really focus on the separation reports, our unpaid claims, and our appeals backlog. And now our phase two, we've added into the fraud component — it really was a hyperfocus on that area, and overpayments as well," Roth said.
This goes back to who can even get unemployment in the first place. Roth said to be eligible your employer must have paid their taxes into the Virginia Employment Commission trust funds, which is where your benefits go. The fund is where people are paid from.
"I think there's a lot of folks who think, 'Well, I paid my taxes, this is something that I should get,' but really it goes back to that employee-employer relationship and what the true facts are around why you are no longer employed," Roth said.
If someone is fired or quits their current job, Roth said, they can file for unemployment but "more than likely" will not get approved to receive a benefit.
If you are denied or haven't heard back on a filed claim, Roth said there is an appeal process, but "all too often folks are appealing because they haven't heard a decision, which only delays the decision that you're going to get."
Each new claim also adds to the backlog, which the VEC is still working through.
In March, the News 3 team of investigators uncovered an audit report completed by The Auditor of Public Accounts, the group who does audits for state agencies. The report for the fiscal year that ended in June 2021 found that while the Commission tried to process claims quickly, outdated technology and limited staffing resulted in a significant number of errors in benefit payments.
The report states that the VEC did not detect many of these errors until after it issued payments, and they did not have the systems or processes in place to record over payments to recoup these funds.
The organization also found a number of instances where criminals hacked into people's accounts. Roth said in an effort to increase security within the VEC, the state has hired more people who are focused solely on "fraud investigations." This comes after the audit report found potentially $400 million was wrongly given out from the VEC.
If you think your identity has been stolen, Roth said to report it and contact the Attorney General's Office.
"Every morning in our boardroom, we address issues from the day before, some challenges that we have and we look for ways to create solutions to these problems," Roth said.
When it comes to the customer service center, Roth said they've also made it easier to speak to a real person although it's not a perfect system.
"We've got a lot of work to do, but it's really important that our customers understand that they are at the center and the focus of all," she added.
We told Roth that our viewers were still having trouble with their claims and getting in contact with a representative. She said, calling the customer care center or filing your claim online is still the best way to get solutions.