PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For months, Oregonians who lost their jobs when the pandemic hit have struggled to get their benefits going through the Oregon Employment Department. But Acting Director David Gerstenfeld said that is about to change.
Behind the scenes, OED officials have been adding more employees, updating technology and making improvements to the process. Things should begin to move faster, they said.
OED said they’ve recieved a record 527,000 applications for regular unemployment benefits. Of those, about 2600 have yet to be processed.
The big backlog is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims. Out of 106,000 PUA applications, there are still 44,500 that need processing.
For people waiting, like Sandra Dodge, things are getting tight.
“I’m starting to feel extremely stressed because our bank accounts are running on empty,” Dodge told KOIN 6 News.
Like many, she had trouble talking by phone with anyone from OED.
“I started calling and I had a terrible time getting through.”
Currently there are only 35 people answering incoming calls for people who need PUA help. But that’s because they have more people processing claims and making outbound calls to those who need more information, Gerstenfeld said.
Overall, he said, there are about 400 people working on PUA applications.
“This approach of having most people focused on getting the claims processed, with a smaller group dedicated to answering incoming calls is showing very real results,” Gerstenfeld said.
One previously unresolved issue for PUA filers is how they should report their earnings. Initially, people were told to report gross earnings, meaning they can’t deduct expenses.
But that’s likely to change soon because of new guidance from the US Department of Labor — people can report net earnings. That means people would qualify for more money each week.
Gerstenfeld said they’re still reviewing this and will put out more information next week about what you need to do and how to get retroactive payments. He said if you’re still waiting, you should fill out the “Contact Us’ form on their new website.
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