Five Ways to Address the Virginia Employment Commission’s First Level Appeals Backlog
Tuesday, January 24th, 2023
By Pat Levy-Lavelle, Legal Aid Justice Center and Flannery O’Rourke, Virginia Poverty Law Center
The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) currently has a backlog of more than 96,000 first level appeals of unemployment decisions. The persistence of this backlog directly harms workers and employers, who (on average) must wait a whole year for an appeal hearing. While two bills in the General Assembly (HB1639 Walker; SB1435 Bell) are purportedly aimed at increasing agency efficiency, in fact the bills only do one thing: cut the time workers and employers have to file an appeal. Yet, while the proposed legislation is not the remedy for the VEC’s backlog, there are other substantive steps that can help workers, employers, and the agency.
The Virginia Poverty Law Center and Legal Aid Justice Center jointly urge lawmakers and the VEC to consider the following initiatives to ensure that the agency can move through the appeals backlog more quickly and efficiently.
- Increased staffing. The VEC has been significantly understaffed throughout the pandemic, and this has been and remains a huge concern to unemployment insurance advocates. To that end, we support the governor’s proposed budget amendment to fund current appeals staff through 2024. Significantly increasing staffing would be better, but the budget amendment’s effort to shore up existing capacity is certainly helpful.
- Consolidation of issues under appeal. Multiple hearing dockets involving a single claimant should be consolidated as much as possible, rather than generating multiple hearings. Multiple hearings unnecessarily take up appeals capacity and generate confusion for stakeholders.
- Administrative resolution of cases short of hearings. VEC document processing staff should be able to resolve issues administratively – such as when a claimant has supplied documentation that will resolve an undisputed matter, when reviewed – without hearing officers being assigned to conduct a hearing.
- Overpayment waivers, when the standard is met, to obviate the need for hearings. The VEC has concluded that existing law requires a final decision on eligibility or qualification, before a request for overpayment waiver can be considered. The VEC has stated that some cases are clearly eligible for waiver, but that existing law requires otherwise-unnecessary hearings to be completed first. We support Delegate Hudson’s bill clarifying that overpayments can be waived even if an appeal is pending. This legislation would reduce the number of pending and future appeals.
- Improved access to information and self-service options. Some appeals are the result of claimants (or employers) misunderstanding VEC processes, or not being able to access information or get questions answered. The VEC needs more funding for information technology improvements and call center improvements. We support Governor Youngkin’s proposed budget amendment to provide this funding.
Some of these initiatives are wholly within the control of the VEC; others will require action by the General Assembly. In either case, the time to embark on these initiatives is now. Workers and employers are still waiting.
Virginia Poverty Law Center: Connie Stevens, Communications Director, email@example.com, 540-354-8597