Archive for May 25th, 2021

Judge Orders VEC to Fix Issues at the Agency

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Judge Orders Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) to End Unemployment Insurance Backlog and Fix Issues at the Agency   

Legal Aid groups and their Pro Bono Partners will monitor the VEC’s progress to ensure Virginians who have been struggling, often for months, get access to the relief they are owed   

Richmond, VA – Today, Judge Henry Hudson, of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, signed an order detailing the steps now required of the VEC to end the backlog of unpaid unemployment insurance claims and to identify and pay Virginians whose benefits were improperly terminated while their cases awaited adjudication. These delays meant that claimants often waited many months, some even since the beginning of the pandemic last year, to receive this financial lifeline after losing their livelihood. Now, the VEC has been ordered to resolve substantially the entire backlog within the next 100 days. 

This order pauses the proposed class action lawsuit filed April 15 by the Legal Aid Justice Center, Legal Aid Works, and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, along with Consumer Litigation Associates, PC, and Kelly Guzzo, PLC, while the VEC works to implement these desperately needed reforms and upgrades.   

“I was cut off benefits, without information or a chance to fight for them, nine months ago. It’s beyond frustrating not to know what’s going on – and my daughter and I lost our apartment in the process. It’s time for Virginia to fix this. I’m glad that the court took action to order that Virginia act quickly to do so,” said Amber Dimmerling, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit.  

“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,” said Pat Levy-Lavelle, Attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “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.” 

“We appreciate the leadership of Judge Hudson, and the hard work put in by all sides—our public interest team as well as the VEC and the Administration—to reach this significant resolution and, as Judge Hudson demanded, “start getting checks to people as soon as possible,” said Leonard Bennet of Consumer Litigation Associates, P.C.  

The order will go into effect immediately and requires the VEC to: 

    • Ensure the elimination of the VEC adjudication backlog before September 6, 2021 (Labor Day). 
    • Accelerate the adjudication of claims to 10,000 cases weekly by July 1, 2021, and 20,000 cases weekly by August 1, 2021. 
    • Quickly and immediately process adjudications for many applicants who are covered by Pandemic Unemployment benefits but have had to first await adjudication. 
    • Identify and resume payments to those claimants who had been getting benefits but were improperly cut off. 
    • Require state identification and better coordination of various alternate housing, food, and income benefits available to applicants in financial difficulty. 
    • Subject the VEC’s new performance standards and deadlines to judicial supervision and require weekly information sharing to make that possible.  

While I am optimistic that the VEC will stand by their obligations in this lawsuit, and that benefits will be provided to Virginias in a reasonable time, we should never have had to wait this long in the first place. I am cautiously optimistic,” said Ashley Cox, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. 

“Scores of Virginians contacted our organization about their problems with VEC and how their financial situations were made worse by VEC’s inactions,” said Steven Fischbach, VPLC’s Litigation Director. “Thanks to Judge Hudson’s recognition of the need for immediate resolution of the issues raised by our lawsuit, thousands of Virginians will get relief and those entitled to unemployment benefits will get them much faster.” 

“We are in this for the long haul, hoping for fast, genuine action for our clients while holding VEC to the timeline that will rapidly resolve the backlog of so many desperate Virginia workers,” said Ann Kloeckner, Executive Director at Legal Aid Works. 

Getting to this point took the effort of countless Virginians who reached out to our organizations and other legal aid organizations; to our Pro Bono partners that helped bring this litigation; to other service organizations across the state; to their elected officials; to the VEC; and to the Governor—demanding change. We thank the named plaintiffs in this lawsuit for stepping forward to help so many others. We are grateful to see the Governor and VEC acknowledge the magnitude of these issues and recognize that patience is no longer an option for Virginians who have been waiting months for a chance at getting unemployment benefits to keep their families afloat. Lastly, we give special recognition to Judge Henry Hudson for so quickly acting to demand immediate improvements by the VEC.  

While this order is a significant step towards fixing a broken system, it does not address every issue identified by those who have contacted us seeking help. And while the timeline for relief provided is as aggressive as possible, we recognize that many Virginians are hurting right now. Our hope is that these measures bring relief as quickly as possible to those who continue to struggle to access the unemployment benefits they so desperately need.  

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The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) partners with communities and clients to achieve justice by dismantling systems that create and perpetuate poverty.  By justice, we mean racial, social, and economic justice.   

The Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) is the state support center for all civil legal aid programs in Virginia. VPLC’s work breaks down systemic barriers that keep low-income Virginians in the cycle of poverty through advocacy, education, and litigation.  

Legal Aid Works (LAW) champions fairness by advocating for those with the least access to the civil justice system. 

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