Eastern District Court Judge Henry Hudson issued an order on Tuesday with details enforcing the settlement between the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) and plaintiffs who sued over delays while processing unemployment claims flagged as potentially ineligible.
Terms of the settlement include a requirement to eliminate the VEC adjudication backlog by Labor Day, accelerate adjudication of cases to 20,000 per week by August 1, immediately process adjudications for applicants covered by Pandemic Unemployment benefits, and place the VEC’s deadlines and performance standards under supervision by the court and plaintiffs. A status report is due in September to determine if the case can be closed.
According to the order, on May 10 the VEC had 92,158 unpaid claims of various types pending adjudication. The order notes that unprecedented demand for unemployment benefits and the sudden implementation of new benefit programs during the pandemic caused the delays. A VEC press release announcing the settlement said the VEC has received 1.6 million claims since March 2020, more than ten times those from the previous year.
“This settlement is a reflection of the agency’s ongoing efforts to speed up the processing of claims in adjudication, which represent just four percent of all claims,” the release states.
The settlement comes after months of concern from Virginia’s politicians on both sides of the aisle.
“For more than a year, we have heard daily from Virginians across the state who needed to get emergency help—often for the first time—and instead got delays,“ Legal Aid Justice Center Attorney Pat Levy-Lavelle said in a press release. “Many Virginians did receive benefits, and we know that people at the VEC have been working hard during the pandemic. Still, this lawsuit has been about getting more help for gaps in the system and the Virginians who desperately need it. The steps ordered today are a hopeful sign that help is on the way.”
According to the order, the VEC has a contract to add 300 adjudication officers, almost four times what the VEC currently has; the staff will be added over the next few months. The VEC is also requesting resources to contract 300 more adjudicators and open a new customer contact center. Last week, the same day as a key meeting in the settlement, Governor Ralph Northam announced an executive directive to the VEC that is similar to the final terms of the settlement.
“We feel it’s a reasonable order,” VEC spokesperson Joyce Fogg told The Virginia Star.
She said, “We’re disappointed that the partners felt like they needed to file the lawsuit, but we’re very happy with Judge Hudson’s order and we’re very anxious to follow the agreement in the order. We’re adding staff constantly, we’re adding contract staff. The Governor’s been supportive in getting us more funding, and we will be weekly reporting to the court on how we are doing with the terms of the settlement.”