As many as 150,000 Oregonian workers impacted by the Covid-19 shutdowns are still waiting on their jobless claims to be processed, according to House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, from Canby.
“Every single day, I continue to get emails from constituents who are still facing struggles hearing back from [the Oregon Employment Department] on their cases,” Rep. Drazan said on her podcast, Stand Up, Oregon this week. “It’s dramatic.”
After a recent meeting with OED Director Kay Erickson, Drazan said there are an estimated 45,000 Oregonians who have not received a response on their claim after weeks of waiting, as well as more than 100,000 applications for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which is for Self-employed, contract, gig and other workers not eligible for regular unemployment benefits.
“So, in total, you have about 150,000 claims that are still kind of stuck in their process,” she said.
In a statement from her office last week, she called for immediate action.
“We are past the time for excuses and business as usual,” she said. “The Oregon Employment Department must acknowledge the urgent human suffering that is happening across the state and respond not simply with empathy, but with action.”
She said the leadership at the state agency, as well as the executive branch led by Governor Kate Brown, “have failed OED staff and the thousands of Oregonians who desperately need relief.”
“Our single-income households and families living month to month cannot afford to wait any longer,” Drazan said. “The system is failing them. I am out of patience and our vulnerable Oregonians are out of money.”
On Tuesday, the department announced a new initiative aimed at processing the backlog of jobless claims — which they estimated by then to be at about 38,000.
1/5 What are you doing to resolve the backlog of claims and get to people who’ve been waiting so long? This morning we announced a new initiative to get through the claims backlog. From May 29 through June 12, we’ll be intensifying our efforts…
“We know how frustrating it has been for those who are trying to reach us about the status of their claims and have been unable to get through,” the agency said in the statement announcing the new initiative, dubbed “Project Focus 100.”
The project is designed to address the remaining backlog of cases by continuing surge hiring, focusing on the oldest and most complex claims, increasing proactive contact and communication, and using technology to close gaps and improve service.
On Wednesday, Drazan hailed the initiative.
“Tens of thousands of Oregonians have cause for hope today,” she said. “The Oregon Employment Department is changing course and responding to repeated calls to abandon business as usual and clear the backlog of unemployment claims. The need remains urgent. While ensuring the health and safety of employees, the agency’s execution of their newly announced plans must be flawless. Oregonians deserve nothing less.”
The challenges facing the OED are absolutely unprecedented. The state’s economy lost more than 266,000 jobs in the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic, while the unemployment rate skyrocketed from a near-record-low 3.5 percent in March to a record-high 14.2 percent in April.
It was the state’s highest unemployment rate on record (and is expected to continue to rise), as well as the largest month-over-month increase in state history, going back almost 50 years (comparable data are available back to 1976).
“Navigating this crisis is a collective effort, and Oregonians know how to work together to overcome hard challenges,” the agency said in Tueday’s release. “We’ll get through this together.”
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