Unemployment filers sue Oregon as wait for benefits drags


There are still more than 55,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims waiting to be processed

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Frustrations are boiling over as the wait for unemployment benefits continues, leading some to take their complaints to court.

A lawsuit filed last week in Multnomah County circuit court accuses the Oregon Employment Department and Acting Director David Gerstenfeld of being at fault for a huge backlog of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications.

On Tuesday, there were more than 55,000 PUA claims waiting to be processed.

From issues with the outdated system to how difficult it is to get ahold of anyone at the OED, the lawsuit details the struggle many have faced to get unemployment benefits. It also claims the “OED has consistently failed to prioritize language access in the unemployment benefits system.”

Those who filed the lawsuit want the OED to deliver benefits to those who have gone more than three months without money to pay their bills. They also want the OED to issue their decisions on whether someone can receive benefits within four weeks of the application date.

Gerstenfeld wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit but did give an update on their progress with getting through claims and revealed the OED will soon launch a new PUA application to help speed things up.

“Right now every weekly claim for benefits — one of our employees has to touch and do some work on for the benefits to be paid and that is causing some interruption in benefit payments now,” he said on Tuesday. “For PUA, the new process will automate that.”

The acting director said they processed more than 5,500 PUA applications last week and are still aiming to get through the remaining claims by the August 8 deadline.

For those who are still waiting, Gerstenfeld suggested filling out the “contact us” form on the new website that was launched last week. He also asked people to stop using auto-dialers to call in because it’s jamming the already-overburdened phone lines.

Visit the new website

It’s worth noting that the OED isn’t just bogged down by a mountain of paperwork: several employees have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Tuesday, 13 employees at seven different OED locations had the virus.

The Gresham OED location has been shuttered in response and employees are working remotely to try to minimize further delays for those waiting on benefits.

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