The unemployment insurance (UI) program in Virginia is operated through the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). The VEC is a program in the Commerce and Trade Department. This petition will be presented to VEC Commissioner Ellen Hess and Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball, who are the decisionmakers.
We are calling on Commissioner Hess and Secretary Ball to use their authority to expand language options for the UI program and the pandemic assistance programs so that limited English proficient (LEP) individuals in Asian American and other communities do not face undue barriers and inequities in the application process.
Losing employment during the COVID-19 outbreak and having to apply for UI and pandemic assistance programs has been a serious, considerable source of stress for our communities. Virginia has made notable strides in improving access, such as expanding hours of operation and hiring more staff for the VEC. However, the lack of language access to these programs for non-English and non-Spanish speaking individuals remains a significant issue, including the:
- online application portal;
- phone lines at state and local field offices: it is unclear how to access telephonic interpretation services as the call cuts off if the caller does not choose either the English or Spanish language options; and
- lack of written information about how to apply for UI or pandemic programs.
By language, 29% of Korean-speaking, 29% of Vietnamese-speaking, 26% of Urdu speaking, 34% of Nepali-speaking, 32% of Punjabi-speaking, 30% of Bengali-speaking, and 27% of Arabic-speaking individuals speak English less than very well in Virginia. In certain regions, there are significant numbers of Amharic-speaking LEP individuals, as well (2018 American Community Survey). The limited language options in these application processes and the absence of written in-language guidance makes it difficult for these communities to obtain financial support from the VEC.
States such as Massachusetts, Washington, and Minnesota already have a broader range of language options and/or in-language guidance to assist LEP individuals in applying for state unemployment and pandemic assistance programs.
Add your name to our petition to let Commissioner Hess and Secretary Ball know that language access must go beyond English and Spanish in our increasingly linguistically diverse state. Workers, independent contractors, and small business owners are still struggling financially. This is a crucial and common-sense step that will help all of Virginia’s economically vulnerable community members to stay financially afloat as this crisis persists.