Virginia says it will stop cutting off unemployment benefits without investigations

Virginia says it will stop cutting off unemployment benefits without investigations
Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Facing the threat of a class-action lawsuit, Virginia officials said this week they will stop halting unemployment benefits after they’ve been started without first conducting a review.

The Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center says the decision means payments will resume for thousands of unemployed Virginians who had their benefits cut off after, for instance, an employer disputed their eligibility for benefits or reported they refused a job offer.

“The policy until now has been that a mere report by a former employer would trigger the Virginia Employment Commission to cut off someone’s benefits,” said Pat Levy-Lavelle, a lawyer with the center that has been representing people seeking jobless benefits. “Whereas now a report puts a case on list for adjudication but doesn’t in and of itself trigger cutoff of benefits.”

The Virginia Employment Commission has struggled to keep pace with a flood of applications for jobless benefits since the coronavirus pandemic began. U.S. Department of Labor data shows Virginia is slower than any other state in the country when it comes to reviewing eligibility issues.

The agency is still reviewing applications filed in July and in a letter announcing their decision Thursday, officials said they had 74,000 claims pending adjudication.

The change will only help some of the people in that backlog: People whose benefits had begun but were later stopped. It’s not immediately clear exactly how many people fall into that category, but the Legal Aid Justice Center estimated the figure is in the tens of thousands.

The new approach came after the Legal Aid Justice Center wrote the agency in late November warning that the agency’s approach violated federal and state law, which states claims can only be stopped if they will be investigated within the week. They said they were prepared to file a class-action lawsuit if the VEC didn’t change its practice.

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