Employment claims still waiting on eve of ‘Project Focus’ deadline

Coronavirus

Project Focus 100's deadline is Friday, June 12

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Employment Department continues to make its way through the backlog of regular unemployment claims almost three months after Governor Kate Brown’s shutdown orders first went into effect. Even after that backlog is cleared, there are still many more people who need help.

It’s a story so many others share: they applied for benefits at the end of March, and to this day have not received a check from the Employment Department. Rachel Hestmark said she feels like her claim has been forgotten.

The OED said it has processed roughly 90% of regular unemployment claims from its initial backlog, leaving just 4,000 claims left to get through by Friday as part of Project Focus 100. But that’s just still a portion of the unresolved claims. People like Hestmark, who was furloughed from her job, are still waiting.

“Still waiting for benefits. I know they’ve said they’ve already submitted maybe 97% of initial, but I’m not in that yet,” said Hestmark. “I’m sending an email once or twice a week because I feel forgotten.”

She’s also worried about missing out on the additional $600 a week under the CARES Act because that aid expires at the end of July. KOIN 6 News followed up with the OED, and was told if someone who was eligible for benefits claimed between March 29th through the week ending July 25th, they will get that additional $600 a week retroactively. It’s a thin silver lining for Hestmark.

“I work very hard to take care of my family and make sure we’re good citizens here, but we also don’t want any problems and I’m happy they’re not gutting things off, but they have not reached everyone,” said Hestmark.

There has also been some confusion about filing for regular benefits versus the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, or PUA. While there are some exceptions, people can essentially file for regular benefits if they were traditional employees and lost their job due to the pandemic. The PUA is a new program that allows people who were self-employed, contract employees, or gig workers to qualify for unemployment benefits.

When asked about Lyft and Uber drivers however, the interim director of the OED said he couldn’t comment on specific employers, and therefore did not indicate which program those employees should apply for.

KOIN coverage: Oregon unemployment issues

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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