RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) has delayed the rollout of its new unemployment insurance (UI) system a month. The transition was supposed to lead to a site shutdown this week, but that has also been delayed.
VEC posted the update on its website, saying the current system will now be down in late October, as they plan to roll out the new system in November.
Virginia leaders say they want more time for user testing and training to sure everything is in order
“Modernizing the current UI system is a critical part of VEC’s commitment to improving the overall experience of its customers and serves as the foundation of the organization’s mission,” VEC said previously.
While the site is down next month, users will not be able to file new or weekly claims, access their accounts or talk to agents for help.
“During this changeover period, users will be temporarily unable to complete online actions for unemployment insurance. The Customer Contact Center will also be temporarily unavailable during this period” the VEC said.
There will be no changes to how citizens receive benefits during this time.
The VEC says the new system will make the process more user-friendly and faster. Once it’s up and running, VEC will no longer need to rely on mailing important information like PINs.
Leaders say it will also help adjudication officers who are reviewing a backlog of contested unemployment claims.
A specific date for the blackout period has not yet been announced. More information can be found, here.
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VEC delays timeline for unemployment system upgrades: “No one should be surprised”
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-Upgrades to Virginia’s outdated unemployment system are being delayed until early November, about one month after the long-anticipated Oct. 1 launch date.
That’s also pushing back a temporary shut down of the current system that was expected to begin this week in preparation for the transition. Now, the planned halt is expected to start in late October and last for several days.
As of Tuesday evening, the Virginia Employment Commission had yet to release a concrete timeline for the start of the modernized system or for the shut down.
“We are still assessing potential options, but our primary focus is to take a few more weeks to allow for more time on testing and training to ensure the best possible outcome,” said VEC Spokesperson Joyce Fogg in an email on Tuesday.
During the crossover period, customers will not be able to access inquiries on the telephone system nor file initial, additional, reopened or weekly claims. Appeals hearings and preparations for those hearings will continue without interruption, according to the VEC.
The system overhaul has been underway for 12 years and it’s still unfinished 8 years after the original target date for completion.
The project was delayed further at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, during which a tenfold increase in unemployment claims exposed long-standing flaws in the system.
The new system will add various online features to a self-service portal, allowing claimants to avoid long wait times at VEC call centers.
Secretary of Labor Megan Healy said the decision to push back the launch date was made last Friday.
“The statewide accounting system for all the state agencies is going live Oct. 1 and the VEC is also in the middle of their annual APA audit. A lot is going on,” Healy said in a text on Tuesday.
The set back is the latest frustration for claimants like William Bernstein. He said he just recently received more than $2,000 in back pay after initially filing for benefits at the end of July 2021. He said his claim was stalled in the system due to a point of confusion with his former employer but–before the issue was resolved–he struggled to reach the VEC by phone for weeks.
“They have had all of this time to update the system and honestly to get down to it, it shows leadership doesn’t really care much about those who are unemployed,” Bernstein said. “Leadership needs to get on the ball and get their priorities straight.”
The delay comes after a presentation from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to members of the General Assembly last week raised several concerns about the modernization effort and the state’s ability to stick with its Oct. 1 timeline.
“Several major project risks have not been fully mitigated and continue to threaten VEC’s UI modernization project, even though the new system launch is fast approaching,” said JLARC Project Lead Lauren Axselle.
Axselle said the VEC was experiencing difficulties transferring customer data accurately. She also noted that staff training for modernization, which started on Sept. 13, may have started too late.
Another finding was that the agency hasn’t conducted sufficient usability testing with claimants and employers to identify possible areas of confusion as recommended by experts. Instead, Axselle said the VEC had only conducted this testing with agency staff.
Asked if the VEC had since expanded user testing, Fogg said, “I don’t know that we’ve done any. I know they have discussed it.”
Fogg couldn’t say if the issues with data transferring have been resolved.
Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) has been raising the alarm about some of these issues since last year. She said this may have been addressed by a budget proposal she introduced directing Virginia to bring in leading developers in user testing. That amendment was rejected.
In an interview on Tuesday, Hudson wasn’t surprised by the delay.
“At this point the state has been ignoring this guidance for more than a year,” Hudson said. “User testing is not an afterthought. You can’t tack it on to the last month of a project. You build good software right along with the people who will use it from the start. So I think we should all be concerned about how realistic the prognosis for the delay is from here.”
8News asked Gov. Ralph Northam about the delay during his visit to the State Fair of Virginia on Tuesday.
“We have postponed that because we want to get it right. We have been working on this for a while,” Northam said. “I won’t say it’s going to be perfect but it will be much better than it has been.”
Northam didn’t directly respond when asked if staff training and user testing should’ve started sooner.
“The system was literally inundated with more than 1.7 million Virginians and we’re doing everything that we can,” Northam said.
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VEC delays launch of new UI system until November
RICHMOND, Va. -- A long overdue update to Virginia's unemployment insurance online system is delayed once again.
The system that is used to apply for benefits was supposed to be down Wednesday so the state could make updates and get the new system ready for its Oct. 1 launch date.
But Tuesday morning, CBS 6 learned the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) was delaying that launch another month -- now setting sights on a November launch.
This delay comes just a week after the Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission's (JLARC) interim report stated they were concerned that all of the major risks associated with the roll-out of the new system had not been mitigated -- including the potential for a five to seven day blackout period when the new system was to roll-out.
Now, the VEC is telling claimants to prepare for the system to be down in late October. During that time, you won’t be able to file initial claims, weekly claims or access the VEC tax system.
This has the Legal Aid Justice Center worried because they don’t know what to expect, and are concerned about the potential delays that could come from this update.
"The JLARC report talked about a number of major challenges that haven't been fully resolved and could threaten things for the agency, for employers, and most importantly, from our concern for claimants who are still out there, waiting for benefits and trying to follow all the directions," explained Pat Levy-Lavelle, senior intake attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center. "And so you know, we certainly hope that the new system is successful because a lot is riding on it, but we have a lot of concerns at this point."
The Legal Aid Justice Center filed a lawsuit against the VEC back in May.
Levy-Lavelle is also concerned because VEC staff just started receiving training on the new, modernized system three weeks ago.
A judge had ordered the VEC and the Legal Aid Justice Center to come up with an agreement by Sept. 25, but last week, the parties both filed for an extension until Oct. 15.
Levy-Lavelle said the judge denied the VEC's request for the lawsuit to be dismissed, and his organization wants to ensure the 136,000 Virginians whose accounts have been flagged as potentially fraudulent are clearly examined.
"We have no interest whatsoever in helping people that are actually engaged in fraud," said Levy-Lavelle. "But we've heard from dozens of people who are genuine claimants, with families who are hurting, trying to follow the steps do everything possible and are told, 'hey, there's some sort of fraud issue on your claim, you're not going to get benefits, you might at some point, but you're not now.' We'd like to work out a process where the VEC looks more closely at that group of 136,000.”
The Legal Aid Justice Center encourages Virginians who have trouble accessing the site to make sure to document their attempts to file a claim. They said those that aren’t paid will have proof they took the steps required on their end.
The process of modernizing an unemployment system typically takes between three to five years, according to experts.
Virginia’s system update began 12 years ago, and it was supposed to have been completed eight years ago.
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