SALEM, Ore. — The Democratic leaders for both chambers of the Oregon legislature proposed on Thursday that the state distribute $500 "emergency relief checks" to Oregonians who have applied for unemployment benefits but still have not received them.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, requested $35 million of the state's CARES Act Coronavirus Relief funds to pay roughly 70,000 people who are still waiting for benefits, the lawmakers said.
“People need help now,” Kotek said. “While the department works on processing all the claims, we can make sure desperate Oregonians get some direct cash assistance as soon as possible.”
Kotek and Courtney said that the Legislative Emergency Board, a small group of lawmakers that addresses funding needs in between legislative sessions, would meet next Tuesday to consider the proposal.
“This isn’t a fix, this is a band-aid,” Courtney said. “We need to get cash into the hands of Oregonians who have been waiting on their benefits for months. As the department continues to clear claims, this money will help those who are still waiting.”
The lawmakers proposed that the state Department of Administrative Services "develop a simple process" to immediately pay Oregonians who have been waiting on benefits from the Employment Department. It would apply to those have filed for benefits from both the regular Unemployment Insurance program and the Pandemic Assistance Unemployment (PUA) program that was created by the CARES Act.
"The delays at the Oregon Employment Department are the result of the historically high number of claims filed since the start of the pandemic, the requirements of new benefits designed by the federal government, and the constraints of an inflexible legacy computer system," Kotek and Courtney said. "The emergency relief checks will provide some direct support to Oregonians while the agency continues to work through its backlog."
Payments would not be subtracted from future benefits, the lawmakers said.