When the pandemic caused mass layoffs in 2020, hundreds of thousands of Virginians found themselves out of work and struggling to pay rent, buy food, afford prescriptions, or make loan payments.
The struggle many didn’t expect? Trying to access unemployment insurance funds through the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). Instead of receiving the emergency help they needed, many faced long waits, benefits cut off without notice, busy phone lines, and malfunctioning websites. Decades of under-investment in Virginia’s safety net system had led to a predictable result: the system failed for many Virginians when they needed it most.
LAJC has been advocating for improvements at the VEC for years, including filing a lawsuit in 2021 along with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Legal Aid Works, and pro bono partners Consumer Litigation Associates and Kelly Guzzo, PLC. One significant goal of that effort was to end the practice by the VEC of stopping payments suddenly when they identified a possible issue with a person’s claim. Not only was this causing devastating harm, but it was also illegal.
“My kids didn’t have a Christmas. My vehicle was repossessed the day after Christmas. We lost our place to live and are currently staying in a borrowed travel camper… All they (the VEC) tell me is there is nothing I or they can do to speed along the process that I just have to wait.”
– George, one of the many people who shared a story with us
Together, our efforts succeeded in getting the VEC to release “stopped” payments to those who needed them. We knew that many Virginians would be helped by the change, but recently we learned the full impact of this advocacy:
To date, more than one billion dollars in emergency aid that previously would have been held up for months (or longer) has made it into the hands of nearly 180,000 Virginians.
And this is just one of the system improvements we and our partners around the state have helped move forward at the VEC through our litigation, administrative advocacy, community organizing, media pressure, and work with legislators.
There is still much more work to do for Virginia to have an unemployment insurance program that truly works for all those who need it. We continue advocating for a system that works for Virginians all the time and not just during an emergency.