PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Cassandra Mendoza is a single mother of four who lost her job in the early days of the pandemic. She applied for unemployment benefits in March but she’s had trouble with her claim and can’t get through to anyone for help.
And she’s hasn’t gotten any money yet. The struggle to pay bills and buy food without an income for more than two months is overwhelming.
“I feel like I’m drowning, literally,” Mendoza told KOIN 6 News. “It’s hurting my gut, so I’m just, like, I don’t know what to do. The nervousness and the what-nots and no answers and what do I do. It’s all scary.”
She’s not alone in her quest to get benefits.
Acknowledging that “for too many Oregonians” unemployment claims are backlogged, the director of the Oregon Employment Department announced a new effort and procedures to process that backlog as quickly as possible.
The goal of Project Focus 100 is to “process 100% of the 38,000 claim backlog as quickly as possible and get Oregonians the relief they need,” Kay Erickson said in a release Tuesday morning.
“We know how frustrating it has been for those who are trying to reach us about the status of their claims and have been unable to get through,” she said.
Since the pandemic began in mid-March, the OED has received more than 360,000 claims for benefits from Oregonians.
Project Focus 100 will use four strategies: continue surge hiring, use the experienced employees to work through the oldest and most complex claims, check the status of an existing claim and use technology to close gaps and improve service.
Erickson said the OED has hired “six times the number of people processing claims than were in place before COVID-19 closures began.”
Between this Friday and June 12, the department will work diligently to resolve the claims for those who have been waiting the longest. “We’re piloting new ways of contacting Oregonians to let them know where their claims are in the system and to solve problems,” she said.
Erickson added better technology and strategies have moved claims out of some traps in the process. “We will continue using these strategies to speed up processing and get Oregonians whose claims have been stuck the benefits they’re owed.”
Tuesday, Cassandra Mendoza got an email from the OED asking for more information. She responded and hopes this means she’ll finally get the help she’s been waiting for.
On top of all these issues, Mendoza said they also battled COVID-19.
“Volunteers come out when we had COVID to leave off food from the food banks, partnerships with the churches and that’s pretty much it. I mean utilities the church has helped me. It’s hard. It’s been very hard,” she said. “We’re almost in June and and I need some answers, or questions, or a reply at least.”
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