Frustration boils as ‘Oregonians losing houses, losing cars’

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Oregon Senate committee heard from people who still haven't gotten benefits

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Carrie Pannell, Joshua Ward and Belindy Bonser are frustrated over their wait for unemployment benefits. They blame a lack of leadership and accountability for the delays they’re experiencing as their situation drags on during the pandemic.

“It’s a very real possibility that my car will be repossessed, and being that my car is how I make my living, I think you can imagine what kind of situation that’s going to put me int,” Multnomah County resident Pannell said.

“I actually have had my car repossessed,” said Bonser, who lives in Jackson County

Ward, who lives in Clackamas County, said “there’s a bunch of Oregonians going in debt, racking up interest, losing houses, losing cars. What’s happening? What’s happening?”

They were among the people who testified to an Oregon Senate committee to voice their building anger over the delays in processing benefits. One man told the committee he’s sick of hearing excuses over a computer system that should have been updated a decade ago.

Many also said they only got help after reaching out to lawmakers who advocated for them.

Sen. Bill Hansell said it was painful and heartbreaking to hear their testimony. Oregon Rep. Ron Noble testified the people he’s heard from deserve better than what they’ve received and called it one of the greatest failures of the states.

The committee is still taking written public testimony through Friday.

Ward said the entire situation “enrages me. It’s a disgrace. It’s pathetic.”

“We are suffering. We are desperate and we need help and advocacy,” Bonser said. “Something has to happen. Someone has to act because this is unacceptable.”

Bethany Penhall, who lives in Deschutes County, was very direct.

“It’s wrong that we should have to be begging our elected officials for the resources that we earned and paid into, so I wish we would’ve had that quality of leadership when it counted the most.”

David Gerstenfeld, the acting director of the Oregon Employment Department, said there isn’t a silver bullet that could fix everything.

“It is a horrible situation, we absolutely recognize that in terms of it being a disaster, absolutely the unemployment insurance system hasn’t been able to meet the needs,” he said. “That is the case not just in Oregon, but in every state in the nation.”

He also said OED hopes to start paying people the extra $300 federal benefit by the end of September and hope to start paying people for the waiting week by the end of November — but aren’t as confident about that timeframe.

By mid-December they hope to get retroactive payments to people whose benefit amount changed because of Senate Bill 1701, which related to unemployment insurance benefits.

Washington unemployment claims dip again

Washington saw another week of declining unemployment claims filed from the previous week, according to the Employment Security Department.

The ESD reported a total of 18,172 initial unemployment claims were filed from August 23-29, down from 18,389 claims filed the week before. There were 560,920 total claims for all unemployment benefit categories, which is down 1.4% from the previous week. However, the ESD said the claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) saw increases.

ESD reportedly paid out over $178.9 million for 357,248 individual claims, which is a decrease of $3.5 million and 128 more individuals compared to the previous week.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. Department of Labor released the latest unemployment numbers across the country. The number of laid-off Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to a still-elevated 881,000 last week, evidence that the viral pandemic keeps forcing many businesses to slash jobs.

The latest figures, released Thursday by the Labor Department, suggest that nearly six months after the eruption of the coronavirus, the economy is still struggling to sustain a recovery and rebuild a job market that was devastated by the recession. In the previous week, more than 1 million had sought jobless aid.

All told, the government said that 13.3 million people are continuing to receive traditional jobless benefits, up from 1.7 million a year ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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