PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The program aimed to assist people not qualified for regular unemployment insurance has further bogged down the state’s process of distributing unemployment benefits.
Oregonians who signed up for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) make up the biggest group of people who have yet to receive benefits, according to the Oregon Employment Department. Those who qualified for PUA include self-employed workers, freelancers and other contract positions that hold a temporary status.
Last week, 70,000 claims had yet to be entered into the OED’s system.
Several who have applied for the program said some of the guidelines are confusing, particularly in regards to gross earnings and what people should be reporting.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Arrowyn Craban Lauer, a self-employed artist in Portland. “It’s ridiculous that people have gone for four months now without any income. I’m lucky because my partner is still working, but there’s lots of people who both are self-employed and that’s everything that they have — and they’ve gotten nothing in four months.”
When asked to clarify the “gross earnings” confusion, the OED said it is considered the amount you receive prior to any deductions for expenses.
Federal law requires that we use net income (income minus expenses) from 2019 to determine what the maximum weekly benefit amount could be. It requires that we use gross weekly income (total income that week) to determine how much to actually send for any particular week. The benefit amount might go down or in some cases might be $0, depending on what you earned that week. Gross earnings is considered the amount a customer receives prior to any deductions for expenses. Customers cannot deduct their rent, product costs, or anything else from their earnings when reporting weekly. We are using the IRS definition of gross earnings. Thank you for flagging this and we will be sure to communicate more clearly about it with the public.State of Oregon Employment Department
And for people still concerned about the status of their claim, OED said the unprecedented circumstances continue to challenge the agency.
We recognize that these past three months have been extraordinarily stressful for the quarter of a million Oregonians who lost their jobs—and livelihoods—as a result of the pandemic. While we’ve been able to get unemployment checks into the hands of a historic number of Oregonians, we know that far too many families are still waiting for relief. Every week, we will process more PUA claims, more quickly. We will have more people doing this work, and the steep part of the learning curve is behind us. We learned how much more progress we can make when we have our most experienced staff process PUA applications, so we are shifting more skilled claims processors to work on PUA claims. The data currently on the dashboard is what we feel confident in sharing. We will continue to add more data over the coming weeks as we improve the reporting system.State of Oregon Employment Department
Get more information on Oregon’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program here.