Quit worker says VEC continues to send conflicting notices

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RICHMOND, Virginia – A man who quit his job at the start of the pandemic to help care for his child with autism says the Virginia Employment Commission continues to send him conflicting notices.

“Initially, from May to June, I was on the phone for hours,” said James Keene. “It was just frustrating because I just couldn’t get through.”

Keene knows the heartache many Virginians have endured over the past year and a half trying to transition to VEC.

When the pandemic shut down schools across the Commonwealth, the Richmond man’s job at Kroger came to an end.

“I had no choice but to quit work because I am the caregiver for my daughter full time, because she is autistic and non-verbal, requires constant practical supervision,” said Keene said.

At home with his 15-year-old daughter, he applied for VEC benefits, knowing he was unable to work but also sure he was entitled to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA.

To his surprise, the VEC said he was eligible for regular benefits.

“It confused me because I know I was not available for these benefits because, by VEC’s own rules, you have to be available to work and available to look for work,” Keene said. “I wasn’t able to do either.”

But the VEC’s decision meant he was not eligible for enhanced PUA benefits funded by the federal government. This led to long hours on the phone and back and forth with the VEC over the next year.

Initially, he resisted taking the benefits, hoping to unravel what he said was the VEC’s mistake. Eventually he received benefits for several months, but then they stopped.

And a more confused correspondence followed.

“September 9 [2020], I got a letter from the VEC stating that they were going to resume November and January because I was found to be ineligible to receive VEC benefits, ”Keene said, shaking his head at another VEC reversal. . “And that same day, I received a direct deposit of about $ 1,300, which was not explained to me at that time. I had no idea why I received this money when I was reportedly not qualified to receive VEC benefits according to their September letters.

But when Keene then applied for PUA benefits, he was turned down. “So they sent him back to the VEC. Three days later, I received a letter from VEC stating that I was eligible for full benefits.

But not for long, apparently. At the end of December, the VEC sent him a shocking letter.

“The VEC now says I’m not qualified to receive benefits,” Keene said. “And they take it all back. “

VEC spokeswoman Joyce Fogg did not respond to multiple emails over several weeks regarding Keene’s case. Pending the outcome of his appeals, he says he does not intend to give up.

“The reason I fight so hard for these benefits is to be able to support my family,” he said. “We lost a car at the start of the pandemic, so we are dealing with a car between my wife, myself, my mother-in-law and my duties as a full-time caregiver. I encourage all parents, children with special needs who are in my situation, who have difficulties with the VEC, to contact your local elected representative, anyone who can help you to try to intervene in your place because I know this that I’m getting through. “

Keene said Friday night, just before his story aired on CBS6, he was contacted by someone at VEC who said he ultimately did not qualify for regular VEC benefits. They told him that his departure from Kroger was “leave of absence,” which would disqualify an applicant. Keene says that’s not true.

He says he hopes Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin stays true to his election promise to make sweeping changes to solve the myriad problems facing the VEC.

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