RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A planned shutdown to Virginia’s unemployment system began Monday at 5 p.m.
The pause will pave the way for a modernized system more than a decade in the making.
The Virginia Employment Commission’s website says the blackout will last several days. Virginia’s Secretary of Labor Megan Healy said they expect the new system to launch next Monday.
“Claimants will not miss a benefits check,” Healy said in a text.
The VEC will process payments for customers who filed their weekly claim prior to 2 p.m. on Nov. 8. Those who missed the certification deadline may face delays, which can be addressed once the modernized system goes live, according to Healy.
Appeals functions and job assistance will continue without interruption. However, various other services will halt temporarily, such as call center inquiries and the tax system, as well as the filing of initial, additional or reopened claims.
The shutdown will allow the agency to prepare for the launch of long-awaited upgrades. The original date for completion was eight years ago. After being pushed back due to the pandemic, the project was delayed once again in late September.
The set back came after the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the state’s watchdog agency, presented various concerns to lawmakers.
In a follow up presentation on Monday, JLARC’s VEC Project Lead Lauren Axselle said that decision appeared to pay off.
“The additional time has allowed VEC to mitigate several key project risks,” Axselle said.
Axselle said the delay allowed for more staff training, user testing and accurate data transferring. Plus, she said the VEC is assessing their ability to enable automatic text push notifications to inform claimants of changes.
“At this point the largest remaining risks are staff turnover and defects after the system goes live,” Axselle said.
Despite the pending progress, JLARC said the agency should identify additional features needed for a modernized unemployment insurance IT system and consider hiring a vendor to execute those steps.
The current computer system, which dates back to the 1980s, has been cited as a big cause of poor customer service throughout the pandemic. In general, the agency has been overly reliant on manual and paper processes, according to JLARC.
Moving forward, the new system is expected to provide more online features through a self-service portal. Axselle said that should relieve some pressure on the call center, which has recently reduced wait times but is still failing to answer the vast majority of inquiries.
JLARC also provided an update on various backlogs that have become the subject of a class action lawsuit against the VEC.
“Some backlogs have been reduced and call center performance has improved somewhat but there are increasing backlogs in other areas and there remain substantial challenges for the agency in the coming weeks, months and even years,” said JLARC Director Hal Greer.
“Did we make as much progress as I would like? No not really. But we are going to continue to work on it,” said Delegate Ken Plum in an interview after the presentation.