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U.S. Dept. of Labor looking into Va. unemployment benefits issues

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 9:19 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Settlement talks are now underway in a class-action lawsuit against the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).

On Thursday, Legal Aid Justice Center spokesman Jeff Jones said the judge ordered the VEC and parties involved to come up with solutions immediately; the Legal Aid Justice Center is a group representing one of the five women in the lawsuit.

“Accordingly, Judge Hudson and the parties met on Monday to discuss how to solve the issues at the VEC as quickly as possible,” Jones said. “We appreciate the intervention of Judge Hudson and are hopeful this will quickly lead to a resolution for our clients and the classes named in the suit.”

This announcement comes as many Virginians continue to contact 12 On Your Side about unemployment benefits not arriving.

It is an issue that left U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh concerned Thursday.

“This is the first time that I’ve received so many calls on issues like this, in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia,” Walsh said during a telebriefing.

Meanwhile, the issue drove itself to federal court in the form of a class-action lawsuit in March.

A resolution cannot come soon enough for people like Meryia El.

“It’s stressful - it really is stressful because there’s already enough things going on,” she said.

The Richmond mother of five said her benefits stopped coming last month.

“I’m still doing my claim every week on the phone, I still haven’t gotten any type of email or any type of letter or anything about why my benefits have stopped,” El said.

Walsh said this is a major problem.

“In some cases, if you lose a week’s pay, you could potentially not be able to put food on the table,” he said. “If you lose a month’s pay you’re not going to be able to keep a roof over your head.”

That is exactly what El is dealing with.

“I’m taking care of all five of my children with just the food stamps and just trying to do the little things; just to make sure my 2-year-old has pull-ups or if we need soap or deodorant or toothpaste and things like that,” El said.

“It’s not just Virginia, there’s other states that have had some areas of issues as well,” Walsh said. “The Department of Labor is looking into that right now.”

Following the telebriefing with Walsh, NBC12 followed up with a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) spokeswoman for more on payments stopping.

The DOL spokeswoman released this information:

“If an individual has already established entitlement to benefits and a new eligibility issue arises, the state has a short period of time in which to make a determination or otherwise must continue to pay benefits until an eligibility determination is made. However, if the individual has not yet established entitlement to benefits, then the state must first determine eligibility before releasing payment. This guidance is discussed in Unemployment Insurance Program Letters (UIPL) Nos. 1145, 04-01, and 01-16 and is based on the requirement to pay benefits when due under Section 303(a)(1) of the Social Security Act.”

In El’s case, she has no idea what was determined in her case.

“The only thing it keeps saying is if I look up the status of it is that it’s on hold,” she said. A spokeswoman for the VEC said the agency was unable to comment on missing benefit payments due to the ongoing lawsuit.

The VEC is also under review by the General Assembly’s watchdog agency - the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

Meanwhile, the VEC website was unavailable Thursday morning for a period of time. A spokeswoman said they had to refresh the website so changes could be updated.

“The website will be down beginning Saturday morning at 7 a.m. for maintenance,” she added. “We are hoping it will be back up in a few hours.”

However, the claims filing website will still be available on Saturday.

There have been changes made to the automated phone system.

In order to inquire about your claims, you can still call the call center at 1 (866) 832-2363. However, you must press the number 2 in order to be connected.

Some Virginians have reported issues getting through. The VEC spokeswoman said they continue to receive more than 100,000 calls per week.

Meanwhile, if you speak a language other than English, you are asked to call 1 (866) 373-6915.

Filing your weekly claims by phone can still be done at 1 (866) 835-6058.

[ VEC to reinstate weekly search for work requirements ]

Beginning with the week of May 30 through June 5, weekly job search requirements will go into effect.

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