Kotek: ‘Unemployed have fallen through the cracks’

Coronavirus

House Speaker pushing OED to move faster

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Speaker of the House Tina Kotek told KOIN 6 News her office has heard from more than 300 people who are still waiting to get unemployment benefits weeks after applying.

It’s been a frustrating and slow process for many as the Oregon Employment Department deals with an unprecedented amount of claims.

Kotek said her team is working with the OED to try and make this process better.

“I do think people have fallen through the cracks, not by anyone’s error or ill intent,” Kotek said. “There were hundreds of thousands of applications at the beginning of the pandemic. We want to make sure that nobody gets left behind here.”

She said she understands people are frustrated because it is unacceptable people can’t get through to anyone by phone for help. She’s pushing the OED to do a better job communicating with people about when they can expect a payment.

OED officials said they will begin calling people with the oldest unprocessed claims starting Friday. The phone call will include a 503 or 541 area code. Officials said they’ve had trouble connecting because people don’t recognize the phone number and don’t pick up.

The other issue is the department’s 30-year-old computer system. In 2009 they received $86 million to upgrade it, but the process didn’t start until 2017 — and there is still a long way to go.

That’s why Oregon has not yet waived the waiting week for people — and updating the system now would taken thousands of hours and cause further delays.

Unemployment claims down 65% in Washington

Initial unemployment claims in Washington went down 65% from the previous week, the Employment Security Department announced on Thursday.

From May 17-23, the state saw 48,445 initial claims and 1,497,591 total claims. The ESD says they believe the significant decrease is partially due to fraud prevention measures enacted over the last two weeks.

According to ESD, the department paid out more than $494.5 million for 424,995 individual claims. The health care, retail and food service industries lead the pack in total claims, respectively.

Since the week ending with March 7 back when job losses due to COVID-19 first began, a total of 1,996,257 initial claims have been filed in Washington. ESD said they have paid out nearly $4.7 billion in benefits since then.

41 million have lost jobs since virus hit, but layoffs slow

Also on Thursday, the United States Department of Labor announced the latest national unemployment numbers. With more than 2.1 million claims filed last week, about 41 million people have now applied for aid since the virus outbreak intensified in March. However, they say not all of them are still unemployed. 

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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