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Acting director of Oregon's employment agency reports progress on backlog of unemployment claims

Oregon's newly-appointed interim director of the Employment Department delivered a status report Wednesday on the agency's effort to address thousands of backlogged claims.

Posted: Jun 10, 2020 5:33 PM
Updated: Jun 10, 2020 5:34 PM

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon's newly-appointed interim director of the Employment Department delivered a status report Wednesday on the agency's effort to address thousands of backlogged claims, indicating significant progress in processing those cases.

David Gerstenfeld became acting director of the Oregon Employment Department (OED) last week after Governor Kate Brown ousted erstwhile director Kay Erickson. As a result, he inherited some 38,000 backlogged unemployment claims that had yet to be processed.

While Erickson was still director in May, and after public exhortations from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, OED announced an initiative called "Project Focus 100" — a push to process every one of those claims, some of which have been languishing since March.

On a video briefing Wednesday, Gerstenfeld described tangible progress on the initiative. According to him, 97 percent of total claims have now been processed, including 85 percent of those backlogged claims.

Gerstenfeld said that 5,800 claims remain unprocessed from the backlog. In total, 13,000 claims have not been processed, a number that the most recent claims filed this week.

The good news, Gerstenfeld said, is that even the 13,000 total claims represent less that the agency is now able to process in a given week.

Strides made in the last several weeks have come from a combination of sources. OED shifted its most experienced staff to handling the backlogged claims, many of which represent more complicated cases. At the same time, about 150 staff from Oregon's legislative and executive branches — in addition to National Guard members — have volunteered their time handling phones for the agency, even as it continues to add more phone lines.

Gerstenfeld said that OED has paid out roughly $1.5 billion in total benefits since the coronavirus crisis began. Most of those funds have been for "regular" claims. A much smaller portion, $69 million, has so far gone toward workers eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which was created through the CARES Act to get benefits to the self-employed, contractors, and gig workers.

Implementing the PUA program has been a struggle, Gerstenfeld admitted. He said the agency is still working to shift more resources toward PUA this week and going forward.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 387485

Reported Deaths: 5116
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah59768836
Washington41571393
Marion39592504
Clackamas32426376
Lane29856354
Jackson24672350
Deschutes23182185
Umatilla15087180
Linn14488178
Douglas13236286
Josephine10057240
Yamhill9665142
Klamath8979145
Polk813698
Benton605137
Malheur591586
Coos5573106
Columbia423855
Jefferson416865
Lincoln357252
Union336854
Crook330156
Wasco314846
Clatsop258335
Baker217531
Tillamook214345
Hood River211337
Morrow197025
Curry190136
Harney119332
Grant108314
Lake104016
Wallowa74713
Sherman1903
Gilliam1844
Wheeler1141
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 5061240

Reported Deaths: 74159
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles152548627128
San Diego4047084319
Riverside3849455306
San Bernardino3718825944
Orange3329505675
Sacramento1674002423
Kern1565171781
Fresno1558992246
Santa Clara1511691922
Alameda1246581504
San Joaquin1070001833
Ventura1036461188
Contra Costa1032921045
Stanislaus912991413
Tulare856141082
San Francisco56614669
San Mateo56058629
Monterey52340625
Solano47422356
Santa Barbara47035548
Merced44807664
Sonoma42912412
Placer41881468
Imperial38128769
Kings35038358
San Luis Obispo31294358
Madera26005311
Shasta25917440
Butte25295309
Santa Cruz22028222
Yolo21451257
Marin18342248
El Dorado18166161
Sutter14494181
Napa13372104
Yuba1070088
Tehama10230129
Humboldt10043117
Nevada9914103
Mendocino848894
Lassen792355
San Benito775977
Tuolumne767790
Lake6990110
Amador573766
Siskiyou470954
Glenn455136
Calaveras435685
Del Norte371242
Colusa323519
Inyo254345
Plumas19127
Mono18294
Mariposa156718
Trinity98817
Modoc7475
Unassigned2430
Sierra2170
Alpine1060
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