RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is still grappling with glitches nearly one year after the state implemented upgrades intended to simplify an often frustrating process.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of fraud cases and appeals are waiting to be resolved.
In a one-on-one interview on Tuesday, VEC Commissioner Carrie Roth defended the agency’s progress since Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration took over last January, but admitted there is much more work to do.
“We’ve really gotten a long way in reducing the backlog. Now we’re going to move toward being best in class,” Roth said. “Our goal is to become the best employment commission in the country.”
Since taking over the agency, Roth has also been routinely vague when asked how long it will take to implement fixes and cut down wait times.
On Tuesday, a banner on the VEC website warned the system would be going offline for scheduled maintenance every Wednesday from 7:30p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Roth said the planned shutdowns are allowing them to upload further improvements.
Asked if the modernized system is fully functional, Roth said they’re starting to be able to use it to its full potential.
“With a technology system this large, you’re always going to have some issues that you’re going to have to work through. We are constantly improving and adapting,” Roth said.
Pat Levy-Lavelle, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center who led a class action lawsuit against the VEC, said he is continuing to hear from legitimate claimants who are being locked out of the system following upgrades intended to increase fraud safeguards.
The VEC told another media outlet in July that 60 percent of Virginians trying to log in were unable to do so. Roth didn’t provide a specific number when asked for an update.
“That varies on the day and the activity that’s going on,” Roth said.
“We need to get to a place where 99 percent of our customers can file their claims online and we’ve got some work to do before we get there,” Roth furthered later in the interview.
Roth said one of their biggest challenges has been automating the system to more efficiently assign cases to staff and reduce backlogs.
Roth said the backlog of more complex cases in need of deputy review is down to 2,000 claims overall. She said a little more than 500 claims are over 21 days old but the rest are new.
Meanwhile, the most recent federal data shows the average waiting period for first level appeals cases in Virginia was 298 days, the third worst in the country.
Roth said roughly 55,000 Virginians are currently stuck at the appeals level after an initial denial, with 101,154 individual issues on the docket.
“So that is our area that we have a big focus on,” Roth said, “We’ve got some augmented staff that’s coming in place this month. We’ve changed to do some block scheduling around some specific issues that are more quick issues that we can help resolve. So our focus there is trying to find some new initiatives that can help and work through those appeals.”
Roth didn’t respond to a follow up question about specific staffing levels dedicated to the appeals backlog, as well as fraud investigations.
Roth said there were 90,265 claims under investigation for potential fraud at the end of September and roughly 11,000 were addressed within the last week. She said the VEC has increased resources to deal with the problem.
“We have an investigative team around this. We have created a new integrity unit that’s focused on the identity theft issue. That’s been something that we’ve had to shift. We didn’t see this type of activity prior to the pandemic at the VEC or really any unemployment commission across the country,” Roth said.