VA. receives $6.8 million to fix unemployment system

extended benefits program

Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott announced a grant to help the unemployment system.

A $6.8 million grant has been awarded to help improve the Virginia unemployment system.

The funds come from the Federal Department of Labor.

The funds are the largest of a four part $20 million grant aimed at increasing equitable access to state unemployment.

Pennsylvania, Oregon and Washington DC have also received grants to improve their own unemployment systems.

The money is designated to be used to improve public awareness and service delivery.

Virginia which is under court ruling to reduce the backlog caused by the outdated system.

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Northam’s budget covers water projects, unemployment fund

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By SARAH RANKIN

By Associated Press | Published Jul. 28, 2021 11:45 a.m.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam introduced two more spending proposals Tuesday for the state’s $4.3 billion share of federal coronavirus relief money, calling for investments in clean water projects and over $860 million to replenish the fund that pays unemployment benefits.

The Democratic governor has been incrementally rolling out his spending plans ahead of the special legislative session that begins next week, when lawmakers will vote on how to allocate the money from the American Rescue Plan.

While the governor’s budget proposals are typically a starting point for lawmakers who then make extensive changes, these spending plans have been crafted in collaboration with legislators and budget committee staff, according to Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer. Each announcement has been accompanied by statements of support from key Democratic lawmakers who control both the House and Senate.

Republicans, meanwhile, criticized Democrats’ approach to budgeting the enormous influx of taxpayer money as lacking in transparency.

On Tuesday, the governor outlined two proposed tranches of spending, calling first for a $411.5 million investment in various projects to reduce water pollution and improve drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

The proposal includes $186.5 million for wastewater treatment and nutrient removal, $125 million for combined sewer overflow projects in Richmond, Alexandria, and Lynchburg, and $100 million to assist water systems in small and disadvantaged communities, Northam’s office said in a news release.

Combined sewer overflows, often called CSOs, occur in systems with one pipe to convey both sewage and rainwater runoff. During periods of heavy rain, the system often can’t handle the volume, leading to the release of untreated water. Alexandria’s problem in particular has been the subject of partisan fights in the General Assembly.

The governor also outlined plans to direct nearly $1 billion to both replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund and speed up modernization efforts at the Virginia Employment Commission, which has struggled to keep up with a surge in applications due to the pandemic.

Under the proposal, $862 million would go to the trust fund, which pays benefits for laid-off workers and is financed through taxes paid by employers, who have been staring down the prospect of a steep increase.

Nicole Riley, Virginia’s state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said the group’s members appreciated the large sum but that it wouldn’t fully restore the fund to pre-pandemic levels.

For the employment commission, Northam’s spending plan includes $37.4 million to boost call center capacity, $29.8 million to upgrade technology, nearly $4.6 million to hire additional adjudication officers, and $1.8 million for personnel support, according to the news release.

Republican House leaders criticized Democrats on Tuesday, saying they were blocking bipartisan discussion about how the money should be used. They shared a memo sent earlier this month by Del. Luke Torian, chair of the House appropriations committee, that said neither chamber’s money committees would be accepting any member amendment requests to the governor’s introduced bill.

“Democrats don’t want to engage in a transparent legislative process that lets all 100 members of the House of Delegates have a say in how tax dollars are spent; they are making backroom deals and in doing so are excluding all of Virginia’s citizens from the process,” GOP House Whip Jay Leftwich of Chesapeake said.

Northam has previously laid out plans for investing $250 million of the state’s funding in projects that will improve air quality in public schools, $700 million in expanding broadband infrastructure and $353 million in relief for small businesses and hard-hit industries like tourism. Additional announcements were expected later in the week.

Lawmakers also will be filling judicial vacancies during the special session.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Northam order aims to speed up complex unemployment cases

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By Associated Press | Published May 19, 2021 7:10 a.m.

By SARAH RANKIN

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Following months of complaints from laid-off workers, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday he was taking steps to expand the Virginia Employment Commission’s ability to process complex unemployment claims.

While data show Virginia has done quite well in quickly processing simple unemployment benefits for eligible individuals as applications surged amid the pandemic, the state has recently been dead last for timely processing of certain claims that require additional adjudication.

In a directive signed Tuesday, Northam wrote that “we must do more to ensure that Virginians’ unemployment benefit claims are resolved in a timely manner and that those who are eligible for benefits receive them quickly. VEC must have access to and mobilize additional staff and funding to carry out this critical role.”

The order directs the commission to increase the number of adjudications being processed per week from 5,700 to 10,000 by June 30, and to 20,000 by July 31.

In a news release, Northam’s office said that would be done in part by finalizing a $5 million contract for over 300 additional adjudication officers. The directive also tells the commission to work with the state’s human resources agency to identify non-VEC state workers who can temporarily assist.

It further orders the commission, which uses a 41-year-old benefits system, to complete a modernization project to launch a new system by October. And it directs the agency to hire staff and upgrade and enhance technology to improve call wait times.

Complaints from Virginians unable to get through to customer service call centers in a timely way — or at all — have been widespread over the past year.

The governor’s announcement came on the same day a judge was holding mediation talks in a federal lawsuit filed last month over the processing delays.

The lawsuit alleged the commission had violated the rights of Virginians who had either applied for benefits and gotten no response or who had their benefits abruptly halted and faced lengthy delays in having their case adjudicated.

Jeff Jones, a spokesman for the Legal Aid Justice Center, one of the firms representing the plaintiffs, said the parties had reached an agreement Tuesday, which the judge still must approve. If approved, he said the judge was expected to enter an order later in the week that would put the lawsuit on hold while the commission worked to meet the order’s terms.

“This is a really good step in the right direction,” he said.

Megan Healy, Northam’s chief workforce development advisor, said that while the legal process remained underway, the administration was hopeful for a positive outcome.

Asked if the changes Tuesday’s directive will implement had come quickly enough, Healy emphasized the enormous challenge the past year had presented, with both a surge in applications for benefits and a slew of new federal programs to implement. She said the directive had been in the works for a couple of weeks.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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