Problems result in Virginia unemployment claimants receiving incorrect overpayment notices
RICHMOND, Va. – A data error triggered during the Virginia Employment Commission’s long-delayed transition to a new computer system late last year caused thousands of applicants to be incorrectly told they were overpaid, the agency confirmed. this week.
The VEC intends to notify the 6,811 people affected this month, Commissioner Carrie Roth said, letting them know they are not required to return the money they never received.
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The issue is just one of an ongoing series of problems stemming from the conversion to the new system, and the latest in a long list of challenges for the beleaguered agency, which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has campaigned for. overhaul. The commission could not keep pace when it was overwhelmed with complaints at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and backlogs piled up with customer service complaints. While employment agencies across the country have struggled with soaring unemployment claims and changing federal aid programs, Virginia’s response has been, in some ways, exceptionally poor.
Roth said in a wide-ranging interview that considerable progress has been made so far, for example in reducing customer service call center wait times and eliminating or reducing document backlogs. and unpaid pending claims. But she acknowledged that serious hurdles remained, including: resolving incorrect overpayment notices, fixing a website that regularly blocks users, ending a backlog of thousands of calls, and processing ‘approximately 266,000 potentially fraudulent claims, including approximately 62,000 questionable identity issues. Of the $14.6 billion in benefits paid out by the agency since March 2020, the latest estimate is that about $1.6 billion was potentially fraudulent, she said.
“Our goal is to be the best jobs board in the country. We have a long way to go to get there, but that’s what we’re rallying around,” Roth said.
The AP questioned the agency months ago about the potential for a widespread overpayment problem after hearing in February from Peter Martin, a plaintiff in Henrico County who believed he had received an overpayment notice. in error and had been informed by an agency representative that the issue was having an impact. others.
A spokeswoman for the agency initially said VEC management was unaware of such a problem. The AP asked again in April and received no response. Documents obtained through an Open Records Request confirmed the problem, and Roth later offered an interview to discuss it.
Martin, who was laid off from a job at CarMax in August 2020 and applied for benefits, said he was in the middle of an ongoing appeal when he received an overpayment notice of around $2. $000 more than he had ever been paid. Like many other applicants over the past two years, Martin said he struggled to get basic information about his case and often received conflicting information.
“Talking to the customer service people was like a brick wall,” said Martin, who provided meticulously detailed correspondence about his case.
Roth acknowledged that many of the new call center workers the state paid tens of millions of dollars to set up “were not really problem-solving skills.” She said the agency has increased training so these workers can now help with “minor issues”.
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Wait times have almost all improved to less than a minute, and centers no longer block calls when busy, she said.
The VEC is also working on streamlining its website, agency-wide customer service training, and a “plain language” review of all communications to make it easier to understand bureaucratic language, a- she declared.
This language revision was a recommendation from the Legislature Oversight Agency, which studied the issues at the VEC last year and suggested the government at the time. Ralph Northam’s administration could have mounted a stronger response to the problems that proliferated.
The Joint Audit and Legislative Review Commission report found that VEC had been upgrading its IT system for 12 years and was eight years behind schedule. Neither VEC nor the contractor consistently dedicated enough personnel to the effort, according to the report.
Documents the AP obtained through FOIA say the IT failover of the legacy system built in 1985 wreaked havoc on our converted data, resulting in overpayments. A spreadsheet lists other ongoing issues including ‘random lags or downtime’ affecting activity and ‘broken data’ which ‘takes up a significant amount of bandwidth and obscures the discovery of other faults’ “.
Users have also reported ongoing problems since the new system went live, according to Pat Levy-Lavelle, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Justice Center who has worked on unemployment insurance issues.
“These include people who cannot file weekly claims; people who receive messages about important documents, such as forms or information-finding decisions, which they then cannot access; people who are locked out or who say their identity is not recognized or their claim is not in the system; etc.” he wrote in an email earlier this year.
Roth said that last month only about 20% of users were able to pass a security filter to access the online filing system, a figure she called clearly unacceptable. That number has risen to around 40%, she said.
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Roth said the project’s supplier, HCL America, still has a lot of work to do to keep the administration happy.
As for Martin, who now works as a paramedic, he was recently told in a voicemail that VEC was working to correct the overpayment issue, but that he should go ahead and appeal “just to be from the good side”.