Va. pays $200K to legal aid groups to settle lawsuits over unemployment ‘failures’

The Virginia Employment Commission will pay $200,000 to several legal organizations who represented clients in a lawsuit over the agency’s response to unemployment claims during the pandemic.

The Legal Aid Justice Center, Virginia Poverty Law Center and Legal Aid Works agreed to the $200,000 settlement with the commission on Wednesday; though that amount is less than the total Legal Aid was asking for, according to a VEC news release.

“The VEC is satisfied to have this matter resolved, and continues with the significant efforts required to address any remaining issues and transform the agency to be better positioned for any future events,” the commission said in a statement.

Around a year ago, five woman sued the leader of the VEC, Ellen Marie Hess, claiming “gross failures” to provide help to those filing for unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

On May 25, 2021, the commission agreed to resolve a number of issues related to processing unemployment insurance claims in order to settle the class-action lawsuit. And attorneys from Legal Aid sued for legal fees on Feb. 1, 2022.

Last fall, a report by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found the VEC was inefficient, even before the pandemic. So when lockdowns and COVID restrictions sent jobless claims through the roof, the commission was unprepared.

In response to that scathing review, the VEC launched a new unemployment insurance system in November to better help people filing for unemployment benefits.

The commission’s response during the pandemic hasn’t gone unnoticed by politicians. When campaigning, Gov. Glenn Youngkin promised to fix problems with the VEC if elected.

In February, Youngkin announced the critical employment claims backlog was reduced by nearly 89% in the past month.

Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

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