I never thought I would need to file for unemployment. Since graduating college, I always had at least two jobs. It wasn’t uncommon for me to hold three jobs at once, usually two regular part-time jobs and one rotating, less frequent gig, like teaching improv comedy or assisting with florals for weddings. Then last year, like many people in Virginia, I found myself completely unemployed once the pandemic hit.
Because I worked two part-time jobs, as opposed to one full-time job, my situation needed some extra attention from the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). I sent messages through the VEC portal to different departments that I thought could help me. All I received was silence. I called. Nothing. I called again, and again, and again. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. “PLEASE HELP” — that’s the subject line of the last message I sent through my VEC account. Last time I checked, like all the times I checked, it was still unanswered.
Without having someone at the VEC look at my situation, I could only claim unemployment through one of my former part-time jobs and receive only a portion of the benefits I deserved. Those benefits came to just under $70 each week. Some weeks, the money didn’t even show up. Even though most days I felt like I was drowning, I also felt really lucky. My friends and family were a great support system. They took care of me when I couldn’t take care of myself. I was one of the lucky ones. What about all the Virginians without any support at all?
Unfortunately, my story isn’t unique. People across the Commonwealth hit deadends with the unemployment insurance program. None of this is surprising when we take into account that the VEC was understaffed and using a ridiculously outdated computer system. Virginia came up last in the nation for handling issues with unemployment insurance claims.
It’s a maddening cycle. How could we survive without receiving our unemployment benefits? How could we find jobs while most businesses were closing down or cutting their staff? So much of life felt like it was on pause. But the bills were still piling up.
Skipping over the days of not being able to get out of bed, the weeks of looking for work that used my skills and compensated well for them, and the months of complete uncertainty, I find myself here—a year and some change away from the start of the pandemic with the VEC under severe scrutiny. I have a job now at least, but what about the tens of thousands of Virginians who haven’t been as fortunate as I am?
At one point, appeals on claims had an average wait time of 247 days. There’s currently a class-action lawsuit against the VEC, which you can add your story to here. To put it plainly, the VEC failed us. While things start to resemble a time before so much loss, confusion, and despair, it’s important to note that some people are still waiting for their benefits. If you’re one of these people, you can find some resources here.
Seeing fewer masks doesn’t mean we’re in the clear yet. The pandemic affected more than our health and social lives. And until the VEC is fixed, we need to tell the Governor Northam to do more.