RICHMOND, Va. -- The CBS6 Problem Solvers continue to get calls and emails from Virginians trying to sort out their benefit claims with the Virginia Employment Commission.
WalletHub, the financial website, ranks Virginia near the bottom nationally in how quickly employment appeals and issues are resolved.
A Midlothian woman can attest to that: filing an employment claim based on two W-2 forms from last year, which were filed without issue on her federal and state tax returns, seems to have somehow thrown the VEC for a loop.
Morgan Warren discovered losing the job she loved at the end of March was just the start of a painful journey. The process of applying for benefits with the VEC and then fixing their apparently mistaken calculation has consumed her life.
“I've done everything,” she said. “I've seen news stories where they're like, get on [the phone] at 8 a.m. So I get on an at 8 a.m., but you can't even get through to the queue to call, to leave a callback number. Every day, if I don't get on to the phone line, I have to use the [online] chat and the other day, 36 people were ahead of me.”
On the rare occasion in which she has actually reached a human being, the complications pile up.
“I've tried reaching through the Claims Department, and asked if they can help me troubleshoot any issues,” Warren said. “And they say they're not allowed to help, because that's not their department. I then spoke with one lady, who said she would love to help, but that they're not allowed to help.”
Warren says she tried to file on April 1, right after she was let go from the Childress Agency, a digital marketing firm. She says the VEC website was down. So the next day, a Friday, she tried to file, but the site said it wasn’t taking new applicants because of an influx of fraudulent claims.
It was only the next week, that she was able to file after waiting more than an hour on the phone. She waited some more.
Two weeks later, on April 22, “Holly” asked for both her W-2 forms from 2020. Warren sent them to her.
On April 26, someone at the VEC asked for identifying documents, including her social security card and driver’s license.
Then, on May 3, “Malissa” asked for her two W-2 forms. Again. Nearly two weeks after Warren had sent them in.
Gerald Childress, Warren’s former boss at Childress, even tried to help.
“I've spent several hours trying to call,” Childress said. “I'm put on hold. And no one ever gets back to you. Finally, after a month or so, I just received a call this week. That's how I found out that the VEC is saying they don't have the [employment] reports that we sent in from March, April, May, in fact, from all of last year.”
Childress says a corporate change at his company last year, when he moved the Childress Agency under a parent company with other companies that he owns, is the reason his employees got two W-2 forms.
He pays unemployment insurance every month like he’s supposed to and the VEC is supposed to have a record of that.
However, in Warren’s case, the VEC only recognizes the first W-2 tax form, which covers just three months, which essentially accounts for just a quarter of her income.
With no relief in sight, the 26-year-old mother of a toddler says the burden of trying to navigate the VEC's bureaucracy is taking a troubling toll.
“I've had to go to the doctor a few times because I've been having contractions,” she said. “And they basically told me, they're being caused by stress, you need to try not to [be stressed]."
Morgan is 26 weeks pregnant and apparently, calling the VEC for hours and hours each week is stressful.
“They said the best thing for me to do is just try to not stress, that's really the only thing I can do to really stop having contractions,” Warren said. “I mean they've checked me. I'm perfectly healthy. The pregnancy is okay right now.”
But she says she'd be okay herself if someone would just listen.
“I just think this is a big disgrace on the state of Virginia,” Warren said. “As close as we are to Washington, I feel like the VEC would be better run I'm just really disappointed in the VEC. It just seems totally disorganized, and I'm honestly really shocked about it all.”
We have asked repeatedly over the past several weeks to speak with VEC Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess and have yet to get a response.
On Thursday Megan Healy, Gov. Northam's Workforce Advisor told CBS6 that because of the class-action lawsuit against Hess and the VEC, Hess is "probably not available soon, but we can make that happen."