The Oregon Employment Department says today it has paid $8.5 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 577,000 people since March 15, 2020.
Despite issuing those benefits for income relief during a year of coronavirus pandemic, OED says it paid about $144 million in benefits just last week to approximately 119,000 people.
The Department says it is experiencing a “Dramatic increase in new claims. We are seeing a spike in new claims now that we have reached the one-year anniversary of the initial huge increase in UI claims. We expect this increase in new claims, and the resulting increase in workload, to continue for the next few weeks as we process and review them for eligibility.”
OED says along with the increase of new claims, it also is getting an increase in incoming calls. It says during the past two weeks its call volumes for incoming calls and answered calls “have mirrored the highest call volumes we have seen since the original Stay Home, Save Lives order.”
OED says many people have reached or will soon reach the one-year mark on their unemployment claims. It advises, “When a person's Regular UI claim reaches the one-year mark, they must file a new claim to continue receiving benefits. Federal rules require us to review the new and old claims to determine which one to pay benefits on.”
It says though some people are experiencing delays after filing new claims, “If a person did NOT file a claim for benefits during the pandemic and is filing now for the first time, almost all of those claims are processed within seven days.”
For other people with expired claims, OED estimates the refiling process could take up to six weeks for OED to manually get some people into the program they were on when their claims expired. It advises, “People in this situation do NOT need to call us to have their benefits paid. We know that any delay in receiving benefits is a hardship, and we are working as quickly as we can to get people paid, starting with the oldest of the newly filed claims first.”
It says, “We may have to move a person's claim to avoid a dramatic decrease in their weekly benefit amount (WBA). This may include situations where a person does not qualify for a new claim, or when a person's new WBA is a decrease of $25 or more from their previous WBA.”
OED also is offering guidance about school reopenings after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order to reopen schools by the middle of this month. OED says, “This change could affect unemployment benefit eligibility for some Oregonians. That's because of federal rules limiting unemployment benefits when schools are open. This is important if anyone in the home has a medical issue or if their children's school is offering in-person, online, or hybrid learning.”
The State’s employment department says it is starting to ask new federal personal unemployment assistance (PUA) certification questions after the U.S. Department of Labor recently released rule changes that expand the reasons a person may qualify for PUA benefits. “USDOL is requiring us to ask new questions on the PUA initial claim AND weekly PUA certifications so that we can give more benefits to more people.”