Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration says that it has wiped out a backlog of nearly 250,000 jobless claims it inherited a little more than two months ago and has reduced the number of unpaid claims pending adjudication to a few thousand.
The Virginia Employment Commission, an agency whose performance during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 lagged so badly that a federal judge ordered reforms, has eliminated a backlog of 246,273 “separation reports,” according to an email from Youngkin’s office to the Mercury over the weekend.
The statement, attributed to VEC Commissioner Carrie Roth, said that in addition to eliminating the backlog, the agency has “keeping current with new separation reports.”
“In addition, we had 24,887 unpaid pending claims. We have reduced this by 86 percent, including new unpaid claims, to 3,466,” Roth said in the statement.
Roth succeeded Ellen Marie Hess, who headed the VEC throughout the term of former Gov. Ralph Northam. Northam ignored calls to shake up the agency’s leadership despite a 2021 federal class action lawsuit and a withering audit last fall by the General Assembly’s nonpartisan watchdog agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.
The JLARC report found that the agency was woefully unprepared even to handle pre-pandemic caseloads and was poorly managed, leaving tens of thousands of newly unemployed Virginians who filed claims during the pandemic not only without vital economic assistance for months on end but unable to reach anyone at VEC to check on their claims’ status. Among its failings, the report found, was an IT system that was eight years overdue for replacement.
Youngkin dismissed Hess as one of his first official actions in January.
Last month, the agency announced that the backlog of separation reports had been cut by 89 percent, to 27,728, meaning the agency cleared that number of reports since Feb. 21. At the same time, according to a VEC release, the number of unpaid pending claims had been cut from 24,887 to $15,846.
In the weekend update, Roth said a “significant amount of work” remains in getting the nearly 3,500 unpaid pending claims “to a resolution for benefits they have earned.” There was no estimate for how long that task would take.
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