Friday, April 12, 2024

Advocates Hope to Aid Virginia Employment Commission in Reducing Backlog

A 2022 report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission shows the Virginia Employment Commission is facing a backlog of 97,814 unemployment insurance appeals cases. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — Advocates and stakeholders have solutions for the Virginia Employment Commission to get through its backlog of unemployment appeal cases.

According to the commission, during the first year of the pandemic, unemployment claims reached historic levels.

In 2020, more than 1 million claims were filed. Although the number of claims filed has declined since then, appeals are still facing longer processing time.

The agency’s issues stem from underfunding, short staffing, and lacking technology, according to a 2021 report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

Pat Levy-Lavelle, senior intake attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center, said one way to fix the issue is hiring more staff for first-level appeals. However, pandemic-era decisions are having a ripple effect now.

“Earlier in the pandemic, the former Secretary of Labor for Virginia basically said we had focused on folks to answer the telephones, and we forgot about staffing up in terms of having enough hearing officers,” Levy-Lavelle recounted.

He added while work has begun to get more people in, there have been some hiring challenges.

Other recommendations are the commission having notices written so they are easier to understand. But, Levy-Lavelle feels having stakeholders come together to review recommendations to determine their necessity, will be a good first step to improving the agency.

Recently, a bill came to a vote in the House of Delegates to cut down the number of days a person has to file an appeal on unemployment claims. Although the bill failed, some are worried strategies to aid the employment commission are not heading in the right direction.

Flannery O’Rourke, staff attorney at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, described the challenges with implementing policy recommendations.

“Any kind of legislative fix, I think, is more complicated to implement,” O’Rourke contended “I think we will still see if the governor’s proposed budget amendment to fund current appeals staff will go through, and there’s also the governor’s proposed budget amendment that will help improve the claimant self-service system.”

O’Rourke added stakeholder and legislative action needs to be taken quickly. With the commission still struggling to meet current needs, she hopes things will be resolved in a timely manner, so it can better assist people with appeals.

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