‘My 6th week filing’: Oregonians’ unemployment struggles persist

Coronavirus

"My phone went from a busy signal to a disconnection"

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Busy phone lines and computer glitches — frustration is growing for thousands of people trying to file for unemployment. It’s a complaint KOIN 6 News has heard from viewers on a daily basis, and has been constantly working on to find out why there are so many delays.

Some people have said they think the offices should re-open their doors to the public and allow people to talk to someone face-to-face, asserting that if we can social distance in places like grocery stores, we can do it at a state-run office.

“This is my sixth week of filing,” said Heidi Porter-Mitchell. “This has been going on steadily like for six weeks, constantly.”

Porter-Mitchell was laid off on March 13. Now, she spends her days applying for jobs and trying to figure out the status of her unemployment claim.

“I was on hold for two hours and 33 minutes,” said Porter-Mitchell. “My phone went from a busy signal to a disconnection.”

“I called unemployment 200 times in a little bit over an hour’s time,” said Porter-Mitchell.

“We just started this calling marathon,” said Andrew Colton. He lost his job on April 8. “On the 9thI started calling unemployment. We must’ve called between each of us 400 times each, and I just kept getting busy signal after busy signal.”

Day after day, week after week, an unprecedented number of backlogged unemployment claims have stacked up. It’s a problem millions of people are dealing with and one we’ve been covering for over a month.

“I tried a new claim, I tried activating my old claim. I just can’t get anything done,” said Colton.

‘Busy signals’: Oregonians struggle to file for unemployment

He and Porter-Mitchell are two of dozens of people KOIN 6 News reporters and producers have talked to about this problem. Officials at the Oregon Employment Department have told us several times they’ve hired more people to process claims. They’ve said repeatedly that they’re dealing with a record number of claims each week and asked for the public’s patience.

But that isn’t comforting to people like Colton who said he wants to pay rent but can’t.

“At least I’m not going to be on the street because our landlord is working with us,” said Colton.

Then there are people like Porter-Mitchell, who said she has had to dip into retirement savings to pay the mortgage.

KOIN 6 News tried to get in touch with unemployment officials in Oregon and Washington both by email and phone on Monday for this story, but was not able to get through to speak to anyone. We will keep asking questions about what it’s going to take to speed up the claims process.

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