PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Many Oregonians are still struggling to get all of their unemployment benefits and say it’s nearly impossible to get through to the Oregon Employment Department by phone.
In March, 21-year-old Caleigh Brown lost her job just as she was trying to start her career. Brown said she received benefit payments for a few weeks but recently started getting letters in the mail directing her to call the OED within seven days to provide more information or her claim would be denied.
But despite calling repeatedly, Brown said she hasn’t been able to get through.
“It’s very, very frustrating. It’s gone on for an insanely long time,” she said. “There’s people that are really, really struggling right now that need the help — it’s unfair.”
OED Acting Director David Gerstenfeld said they know it’s still too difficult to reach the department and their call volume spiked significantly when new federal legislation was passed.
Gerstenfeld said the OED now has most of the new federal programs up and running but explained some people could still be missing payments because of how many weeks they had left on their initial claim.
“The big issue is between allowing people to continue to claim the remaining weeks they had under the CARES Act version and then adding in the additional weeks of benefits that became available under the Continued Assistance Act.”
There’s also debate about the impact of another stimulus check versus additional federal unemployment benefits. Gerstenfeld said the unemployment benefits — over time — have been shown to not only help individuals and families but to also help put money back into local economies in a way that seems to differ from how stimulus checks are spent.
“When we look at the impact in Oregon for example we talk about the $7.1 billion in benefits that have been paid out and most of that gets re-spent in local communities which helps support those businesses and kind of mitigate the impact of the recession,” said Gerstenfeld.
Gerstenfeld said the OED anticipates further federal legislation that will impact unemployment benefit programs. They’re also waiting for a federal determination on when extended benefits will end. When that happens, it will reduce the number of weeks people are allowed to receive benefits.