Oregon scales back Benefits While You Wait program


State jobless rate falls from 8.5% to 8% in September

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Thousands of Oregonians are still waiting for unemployment benefits but a program that helped people get some money in the meantime is being scaled back.

The Oregon Employment Department is still struggling to get through the claims stuck in the adjudication process. Roughly 48,000 people are waiting for their claims to be examined by an adjudicator—a process that can take months.

To tide some people over, the OED paid unemployment insurance to about 18,000 people through the Benefits While You Wait program. But the OED has drastically reduced the program due to new guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Contact the Oregon Employment Department

David Gerstenfeld, the acting director at OED, said the department can no longer make those payments for about 1/3 of claims.

“Unfortunately, this decision is one that the federal government gets to make and they have required us to limit the scope of how we use Benefits While You Wait,” Gerstenfeld said.

However, the employment department is still issuing $300 payments through the Lost Wages Assistance Program. People can self-certify online to receive those payments.

Oregon employers still adding jobs

Meanwhile, the Oregon Employment Department’s latest jobless data showed job growth has continued to rise, but at a relatively slow pace.

The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 8% in September, down 0.5% from August’s totals. Oregon’s employment rate has nearly mirrored the national rate which went from 8.4% in August to 7.9% in September.

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 5,100 jobs last month, following a revised gain of 16,200 jobs in August, according to OED.

“Over the past three months, the rate of job growth slowed,” OED said in a release Wednesday. The agency reported 39,000 jobs were added in the past three months whereas 83,100 jobs were added in May and June. However, Oregon has recovered 45% of the jobs cut in March and April.

Retail trade and health care both rose closer to pre-pandemic employment levels, according to OED. Retail added nearly 5,000 jobs over the past two months; Health care and social assistance added 2,300 during the same span.

On the other hand, the agency said manufacturing lost a substantial number of jobs this spring and still hasn’t rebounded.

“Employment stood at 180,000 jobs in September, which was close to its level of the past five months,” OED said. “Since September 2019, manufacturing cut 18,100 jobs with losses widespread throughout most component industries.”

Two other manufacturing industries dropped at least 10%: food manufacturing (-4,200 jobs, or -14%) and electronic instrument manufacturing (-600 jobs, or -11%).

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