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Warner lights into Northam on continued failures at VEC

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(© Alexander Borisenko – stock.adobe.com)

Gov. Ralph Northam has been great at press conferences on COVID. One thing he still hasn’t gotten down: getting the Virginia Employment Commission in any kind of working order.

This week, Sen. Mark Warner, a former governor, called Northam out on the continued failures at VEC.

“I am writing this letter today to urge you to use every lever at your disposal to speed up the process by which unemployment insurance claimants can receive their benefits. As of this writing, President Biden has signed the American Rescue Plan into law,” Sen. Warner wrote in a letter to Northam dated Thursday.

“The new law extends the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program for the long-term unemployed, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for self-employed and gig workers, and the newly created Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) benefit that I championed for workers with mixed sources of income.”

The American Rescue Plan provides billions in federal relief for Virginians who are out of work through no fault of their own by extending the historic unemployment insurance reforms established in the CARES Act through Sept. 6, 2021.

The bill extended the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for the self-employed, gig workers, freelancers and others in non-traditional employment; the $300 in weekly federal enhancement to state benefits; and the additional weeks of federal unemployment insurance for workers who exhaust their regular state benefits.

“It is my understanding that, following earlier passage of congressional legislation to extend these programs in December, constituents in Virginia faced many delays and communication problems with the Virginia Employment Commission,” Warner noted in his letter. “With the knowledge that these benefit systems were originally set to expire on December 26th, I worked with a bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers in the U.S. Congress to pass a relief package shortly before Christmas because it was understood that loss of benefits at this time of the year would be particularly cruel.

“Now, several months later, I hope you can agree that for constituents still experiencing delays the lack of pandemic unemployment insurance is unconscionable.”

Unconscionable.

Enough with the mugging for the cameras.

In his letter to Northam, Warner referenced three items he would like the VEC to report back on:

  • What changes are being administered to ensure seamless disbursement of current PEUC/PUA funds and a seamless transition into this new PEUC/PUA extension into September 6th?
  • What are the current plans to improve the communications between VEC and Virginians?
  • What are the current plans to improve communications between VEC and employers to quickly determine worker eligibility for UI benefits and approve claims?

Warner also urged the VEC to implement six key solutions to address communication issues and provide clarity for Virginians seeking benefits by:

 

  • Providing detailed status updates on CARES Act related unemployment insurance benefits via virginia.govand getgov2go.com and through press releases.
  • Establishing a more robust phone system and customer service protocol.
  • Providing updates across all VEC websites as well as getgov2go.com.
  • If individuals must file a new claim, allowing the new claimant to use the previous PIN in order to prevent a further lag in weekly benefits due to postal service delays.
  • Working with the Virginia Commission on Unemployment Compensation to collaborate on ways that the Virginia General Assembly can improve benefits delivery to constituents.
  • Partnering with a nonprofit, non-partisan entity such as the U.S. Digital Response (USDR) or 18F, an office within the U.S. General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), to address practical, low-cost ways to modernize technology and streamline the payment process.

“I recognize that some of the issues experienced at the state level have been a direct result of the burden inherited from a patchwork unemployment insurance system that has not been updated since its inception,” Warner wrote. “For that reason, I recently co-sponsored the Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act to make sure that the U.S. Department of Labor has the resources to develop a robust technology system that states can opt into using. This new system would address many of the issues that have caused delays for claimants and I will continue to work to pass this bill into law.

“In the meantime, I plan to also ask the DOL to more proactively communicate with state agencies, consider issuing guidance on automatic renewal of claims, evaluate the funding formula to make sure it does not disadvantage large diverse states like the Commonwealth, and address fraud issues that have led to complications in implementation.”

Story by Chris Graham


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