Hurdles remain as OED’s ‘Project Focus’ deadline passes

Coronavirus

The Oregon Employment Department is close to clearing its backlog of regular claims

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Friday marked the Oregon Employment Department’s deadline to get through the initial backlog of unemployment claims as part of their Project Focus 100.

There were roughly 38,000 standard claims in that backlog. As of Thursday night, the Employment Department said they had narrowed that figure down to 1,200.

However, once those last remaining claims are processed, there is still a lot to do.

Officials said they will continuing making outbound calls to people and now have 150 volunteers, plus members of the National Guard to help with that task. But calling in continues to be a challenge for Oregonians. People either get a busy signal or end up on hold for hours.

The Employment Department said they are making improvements by adding incoming lines and answering more calls. For example, on May 8, the OED answered 524 calls; on Thursday, June 10, the department answered 1,173 calls.

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

OED: ‘To unemployed Oregonians still waiting, we apologize’

Even so, people say they still can’t get through the department and have yet to receive their benefits.

“I’ve been getting stressed and I don’t usually get stressed very easily, but it’s more the frustration, you know? It’s been the frustration,” said Robbie Hunt who drives for Lyft and Uber.

“Overall, it’s been pretty confusing and difficult and a long wait,” said another ride share driver named Robert who did not want his last name used for privacy reasons.

Neither Hunt nor Robert has been able to get benefits and they both said they can’t get a straight answer from the Employment Department about which program they qualify for. When they file taxes, they are considered independent contractors, so they both thought they would qualify for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA). But they’ve also been told they should apply for regular benefits.

It’s a cycle they’ve been stuck in for months now.

“It’s been so frustrating, besides the waiting, the inaccurate information or conflicting information,” said Hunt.

“I thought I had a straight answer last Friday,” said Robbie. “Then, turns out when I called on Wednesday, I got a complete opposite story and so I don’t know what to think really.”

KOIN 6 News reached out to the Employment Department for clarification on this issue. Officials said they know the process can be confusing, but weren’t able to give a definitive answer. They said they couldn’t not discuss specific employers.

KOIN coverage: Oregon unemployment issues

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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