‘Irritating’ wait continues for OR unemployment benefits


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Many people are still waiting for unemployment benefits as the Oregon Employment Department chips away at the mountainous backlog of claims.

At a briefing on Wednesday, Oregon Employment Department Acting Director David Gerstenfeld said the department had processed 85% of the initial backlog of regular unemployment claims.

The department’s deadline to finish processing the remaining 5,800 claims is Friday as part of Project Focus 100. 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,” former OED Director Kay Erickson said May 26.

Gerstenfeld said they’re continuing to scale up their efforts to get people their benefits. Last week, the OED added 138 additional incoming phone lines to help reduce wait times when people call.

The OED is also increasing the number of outgoing calls to people still waiting for benefits. This week, the department added 150 volunteers. Members of the National Guard are also helping call people to let them know the status of their claims.

Oregon Employment Department online dashboard

Further complicating Oregon’s struggle to process the massive backlog of claims are fraudulent claims similar to what Washington state has experienced. Oregon officials didn’t release any specific numbers but said there have been extensive attempts to commit fraud.

Laura Joubert told KOIN 6 News she filed for unemployment benefits in April and has yet to receive any money. She said she finally got through to someone with the employment department on Tuesday.

“I got a call from a gentleman who’s taking care of my whole case so he’s going to get things rolling in the right direction,” said Joubert. “But it’s just the fact that it’s taken so long.”

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Others who aren’t filing through the regular system are still waiting for help. Anthony Bowden Fowler filed for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, or PUA.

“It’s been irritating I should say to be honest with you,” he said. “They send paperwork in the mail, I answer it back and it’s been kind of a struggle to get ahold of anybody or do anything.”

Gerstenfeld said the PUA program has been one of the toughest things for the OED to implement since it’s so new. But the employment department has launched a phone line dedicated to handling PUA claims.

For Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, call 503.370.5400 or toll-free at 833.410.1004

The Oregon Employment Department is also hosting an online webinar about the PUA process on Thursday.

KOIN coverage: Oregon unemployment issues

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