Virginia woman shows difficulties contacting unemployment

Virginia – It’s gotten so financially difficult for Arlene Patel over the summer she had to move her family into her grandparent’s house in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“I think at this point… really ticked off,” says Arlene Patel of how she’s feeling. The single mother of two was laid off from her Human Resources job in July. She’s stunned that, for months, the Virginia Employment Commission hasn’t given her a dime.
It’s usually a two-week process,” says Patel, “and it’s going on four months now and that’s been a little bit disconcerning.
Since May, 7 WJLA has responded to more than 4,000 viewers who haven’t been able to collect their unemployment checks.
In Virginia alone, there are 70,000 outstanding claims with issues.
In August, Patel finally got a VEC agent on the phone after waiting five hours.
“They said they were just seeing people in May. It might be September, early October when they got to me,” says Arlene Patel.
Patel says VEC’s online live chat designed to answer questions is another frustration.
“I have not been able to get anyone on the live chat,” she says.
WJLA put it to the test.
“So, let’s start the timer right now and we will see how long it takes,” WJLA reporter Scott Taylor said as Patel logged on to VEC’s live chat on its website.
While Taylor and Patel wait, Taylor washes a few dishes.
“And it says there are 89 users ahead of me,” says Patel as she checks the live chat on the VEC website.
Taylor also helps do some virtual classroom work with Patel’s 5-year-old daughter.
“How many pigs are you going to put here?” asks Patel as she looks at her daughter’s school laptop. “Five,” answers Patel’s daughter. “Oh, that’s a good job. You can bring them right over like that,” says Taylor.
Taylor also does some yard work by raking leaves in the front yard of Patel’s house.
He then participates in a breakout dance party in the family room.
Nineteen minutes in, and VEC’s live chat responds. “I got a message that all representatives are busy assisting other customers please try your request later,” says Patel.
Why such a long wait? We tried to ask Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, but his office never responded.
WJLA was 30 minutes in and VEC was nowhere to be found.
We are now in November,” says Patel. “It’s a snail’s pace. It’s just not right.
WJLA reached out to Bill Walton, the Virginia Employment Commission Unemployment Insurance Director.
“Why are people still waiting months to be paid?” Taylor asked him.
The delay centers around individuals who have claims where there is an issue that doesn’t automatically grant them benefits,” Walton said. “If someone is separated due to a lack of work, we don’t have to adjudicate that. They have a right to eligibility for weekly benefits. If they had a situation where they were discharged or voluntarily quit employment that is not an automatic awards benefits scenario. We have to adjudicate that.
During the pandemic, VEC has paid out $9 billion to 1.4 million people in Virginia.
“His hair and his beard,” says Taylor as he decorates Patel’s daughter’s plate with mac and cheese.
“That’s so funny,” adds Patel’s daughter.
An hour is almost up. VEC hasn’t answered any of Patel’s questions.
“I think the process is designed to eventually give up,” says Arlene Patel.
Some good news!
Taylor reached out to VEC, after his visit with the Patel family, and within 24 hours the state handed over thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits it owed the family.

Marco Harmon

I was born and raised in Roanoke, VA. I studied Communications Studies at Roanoke College, and I’ve been part of the news industry ever since. Visiting my favorite downtown Roanoke bars and restaurants with my friends is how I spend most of my free time when I'm not at the desk.

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