The Bulletin

Virginia announces progress on unemployment claims backlog, but applications keep piling up

By: - July 1, 2021 4:35 pm

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

The Virginia Employment Commission issued its first status report Thursday on its court-ordered efforts to reduce a backlog of claims, reporting that it processed more than half of the 92,000 pending applications for assistance it’s required to adjudicate by Labor Day.

But the team of legal aid attorneys representing claimants who have been left in limbo for months were quick to point out the commission’s numbers are less impressive than they sound.

In their own court filing, they noted the commission’s numbers don’t include an estimated at 30,000 additional claims that have been added to the backlog since the settlement in May.

The plaintiffs said that while the commission refused to provide firm numbers on how many new claims were added to the backlog, a conservative estimate based on claims data suggests it’s likely been reduced by fewer than 20,000 claims after nearly two months of work.

“We are pleased that the court’s intervention has moved things forward, with folks at the VEC working hard on progress,” said Pat Levy-Lavelle, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Justice Center, one of several legal aid groups around the state working on the case. “At the same time, we want to move toward cases being processed more quickly, and Virginians who have been getting benefits no longer being cut off without due process. There is much more work to do.”

The state’s beleaguered unemployment assistance program has drawn increasing scrutiny from lawmakers frustrated that long delays have persisted nearly a year and a half into the pandemic.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration has continued to defend its handling of the issue. In Thursday’s progress report, the commission noted it brought in an additional 100 contract adjudicators last month and expects to bring on an additional 175 later in July.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct the date of the deadline for the Virginia Employment Commission to address its backlog of cases. It is Labor Day.

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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.