As unemployment problems persist despite upgrades, Youngkin says fixing the system won’t be easy

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)–Despite recent upgrades, problems persist at the Virginia Employment Commission, according to advocates and frustrated claimants.

In one-on-one interviews, Governor Ralph Northam and Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin weighed in on what improvements have been implemented so far and what needs to happen next.  Youngkin acknowledged making the system run smoothly won’t be easy, even under new leadership.

The Legal Aid Justice Center, one of the groups that led a class-action lawsuit against the VEC, reported in a phone interview on Thursday that the recently modernized unemployment system has had to temporarily shut down several times since those long-awaited upgrades launched last month. The group said customer service complaints from claimants have generally decreased but they’re still plentiful.

Virginia’s Secretary of Labor Megan Healy didn’t know how many shutdowns have happened, why they occurred or how long each one lasted. She said in a statement, “With a new system online with millions of Virginians’ personal information, we take the security of our system seriously and continue to do checks on the system. Since the launch of the new system, no one has missed a weekly payment or has not been able to start a new claim. Our call centers continue to be below two-minute wait times. “

The VEC didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In an exit interview on Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam was asked whether he was satisfied with the execution of unemployment upgrades and if he’s confident he’s leaving behind a system that is prepared for the next economic downturn.

“With anything that we do there is always room for improvement,” Northam said. “It’s not a perfect world but, if there are folks out there that are watching this and they are still having difficulty getting their benefits, I would say keep working on it, be persistent and we are doing everything that we can.” 

During the pandemic, Northam said his administration poured more resources into an inundated system to improve outdated computers and hire additional staff.

On the campaign trail, Governor-elect Youngkin called those efforts inadequate. In an interview on Thursday, he said improving customer service at the VEC is one of his main focuses.

“It is a lot more than just throwing money at it. We have got to redesign the system,” Youngkin said. “This is a matter of resources but it’s also a matter of a broken process. It’s a matter of inadequate training for people that work at the VEC.” 

That said, Youngkin is tempering expectations on how fast a fix will come.

“I have to say it is a big challenge…This is not something we’re going to fix in 24 hours,” Youngkin said.

Youngkin said he will announce his picks for the state’s next Secretary of Labor and new leadership at the VEC in the near future.

“We’ve got great talent that has put their hands up,” Youngkin said.

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