Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Virginia Employment Commission
Virginia Employment Commission
Interstate and Multistate Claimants [16 VAC 5 ‑ 70]
Action 16 VAC 5-70 Amendments for Modernization
Stage Fast-Track
Comment Period Ended on 1/4/2023
Previous Comment     Back to List of Comments
1/4/23  5:37 pm
Commenter: Flannery O'Rourke, Virginia Poverty Law Center

Response to Proposal

Proposed changes to 16 VAC 5-60-10(A), 16 VAC 5-60-10(C), and 16 VAC 5-70-10(E) provide that initial, continued, and/or weekly claims may be filed by telephone, Internet, or by other means at the discretion of the commission.

The option to file initial claims at field offices (16 VAC 5-60-10(A)) and to file claims by mail (16 VAC 5-60-10(C) and 16 VAC 5-70-10(E)) must be expressly maintained because: (1) the current telephone and online systems are not reliably accessible; and (2) many claimants require alternate methods of filing due to resource limitations and/or communication needs.

Claimants regularly report problems with the current telephone and online systems. This issue was expressly discussed at the November 9, 2022 meeting of the Commission on Unemployment Compensation - Unemployment Insurance Subcommittee in which Commissioner Roth presented. As of September, the VEC reported that nearly one third of login attempts to the Claimant Self Service Portal were unsuccessful. At the November 9 meeting, the VEC was unable to confirm how many legitimate claimants can access the online systems. The telephone system is also unreliable. The automated phone system was nonfunctional at least one day in the past month. Moreover, as of November, persons requiring assistance faced average hold times that were more than four times as long as the prior spring. (See Agency Reports and VEC Report to Unemployment Insurance Subcommittee.) This is especially problematic when claimants also continue to report issues receiving necessary mailed communications from the VEC (including the pin numbers to access the telephone system). Consequently, the telephone and online systems are not reliable enough to be the sole methods of filing claims.

Moreover, there are many claimants for whom alternate forms of filing are necessary for communication or resource needs. First, some claimants may not have reliable telephone or online access, or the ability provide other documents to the VEC (such as by fax). For example, Broadband Now’s 2021 study reports an estimated 935,208 Virginians without access to broadband.  Filing claims by mail or in person may be the only options for those claimants. Second, the in-person option for initial filing must be expressly maintained to create a safety net for systemic issues with VEC communications and to accommodate individual’s communication needs. As the JLARC report notes, both the VEC online system and mailed VEC communications contain language that is difficult to understand. In recognition of this issue, in 2022 the General Assembly passed legislation requiring that the VEC develop a Resiliency Plan to, in part, address communication issues. (See Va. Code Section 60.2-111 (D).) In furtherance of this requirement, at the November 9 meeting, Commissioner Roth reported that the VEC is undergoing a massive effort to revise all communications into “plain language.” However, this initiative is far from complete. Thus, communications from the VEC may be confusing to most claimants and inadequate for claimants with additional communication needs. While some claimants can seek clarification by phone, as noted, the phone system is unreliable. Further, this may be insufficient for some claimants’ communication needs. Thus, it is critical to allow for alternative forms of filing.

Consequently, options to file claims at field offices and by mail must be expressly maintained.

CommentID: 206828