‘Left in the dark’: Lack of OED response frustrates unemployed

Coronavirus

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Employment Department says it’s getting through claims faster than ever but thousands of claims are still stuck in limbo.

Of the 52,000 unemployment claims awaiting adjudication at the end of September, 19,200 remained unresolved by Wednesday, according to the OED.

Brandon Le is a recent college graduate who was working two jobs before everything shut down. He applied for benefits in March and is still waiting for answers.

“Of course, I expected it to take a little while just because of the, I mean, the numbers with so many people applying for unemployment,” said Le. “But for it to take eight months at this point or so — yeah, I didn’t think it would take this long.”

For Le, the lack of communication has made the situation worse.

“It’s really frustrating, I mean it’s been how many months now and it would’ve been nice to have some sort of response from them, even if it was just an automated email of some sort — just anything to let me know that I’m in the queue or something like that,” he said.

Apply for benefits in Oregon

KOIN 6 News reached out to OED Acting Director David Gerstenfeld for answers regarding the lack of communication from the employment department.

“It would require diverting the people who can do the adjudication to get those notices out to let people know how long and actually slow down our ability to resolve the cases,” he said.

Gerstenfeld said the department is making progress and is getting through claims faster than in the beginning. Their goal is to finish adjudicating the remaining 19,200 claims before the end of the year.

But in the meantime, people like Le still want some reassurance they haven’t been forgotten.

“I just want any form of communication,” he said. “Just being left in the dark month after month after month is just tiring and really frustrating.”

Extended Benefits shortened

The Oregon Employment Department also announced Wednesday the Extended Benefits (EB) program will only be available for up to 13 weeks instead of the current 20 starting Dec. 13. The program was reduced by the federal government because Oregon’s unemployment rate has decreased.

This means that those who have received 13 weeks of EB by Dec. 13 won’t be paid any additional benefits. Because the change was made at the federal level, the Oregon Employment Department will have to comply with the change unless new legislation is passed.

Some people who have already received 13 weeks of EB may be able to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits for the last few weeks remaining before that program expires on Dec. 26.

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