The Bulletin

Judge declines to dismiss lawsuit over slow processing of unemployment benefits

By: - August 31, 2021 12:01 am

Virginia’s state flag flies in Richmond. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

A federal judge says he’s not ready to dismiss a lawsuit over Virginia’s slow processing of unemployment claims, citing among other things ongoing complaints that have been arriving in his own office.

“The Court continues to frequently receive telephone calls from individuals reporting difficulties processing their claims and communicating with the VEC,” wrote U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson in an ordered filed last week.

The Virginia Employment Commission, which throughout the pandemic has ranked among the slowest in the country at processing claims that required human review, had asked Hudson to dismiss a lawsuit filed by legal aid groups around the state.

The commission wrote that they had met the terms of a settlement reached in late May, beating a deadline that required the state to adjudicate at least 95 percent of the 92,000 backlogged claims by Labor Day.

The legal aid groups, led by the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, objected, arguing that while the commission had addressed most of the backlog that existed as of May, thousands more claims have piled up since then.

“The VEC’s progress in adjudicating the pre-May 10 backlog of cases is to be commended,” the plaintiffs wrote. “There are good people at the agency, and Plaintiffs’ Counsel is aware of that. Still, many Virginians are without answers and without benefits, and several essential issues raised in this case remain unresolved.”

VEC responded by reiterating that the commission had met the initial terms of the settlement and that it would be inappropriate to expand and continue judicial oversight of the issue.

“This case has caused considerable disruption at the VEC and emotional stress for its employees, who have collectively worked tirelessly since the Settlement Order’s entry to meet these adjudication targets,” the VEC’s lawyers wrote.

Hudson responded by directing VEC to “devise a path to resolve remaining issues and provide the Court with a status report detailing the benchmarks for resolution within thirty days.”

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.