SALEM, Ore. — Last Friday, the Oregon Employment Department announced that it has "found a way" to pay out benefits for Oregonians who are out of work due to COVID-19 and are still waiting for their claims to be reviewed. The "Benefits While You Wait" program is supposed to do precisely that — speedily pay out benefits to people who are waiting on benefits.
“We are confident this group of Oregonians are eligible for benefits because they lost their job due to COVID-19, we just don’t know which program they are eligible for yet,” said Employment Department Acting Director David Gerstenfeld. “We have found a workaround that will allow us to pay benefits while their claims are being reviewed by an adjudicator. We are grateful we have figured out a way to do this because Oregonians have been waiting too long.”
OED says that it is already notifying claimants who are eligible for the program via email and robo calls. The agency said that strict laws govern unemployment insurance to prevent fraud and provide due process, requiring that each claim be reviewed — but an estimated "tens of thousands" of Oregonians may be eligible who are still in adjudication.
According to OED, Oregonians who may be eligible for “Benefits While You Wait”:
- Applied for regular unemployment benefits;
- Had their claim flagged for adjudication because the Employment Department has to determine if they meet the legal requirements to get regular unemployment benefits;
- They are out of work due to a COVID-19 qualifying reason (see full list below); AND
- Are likely eligible for PUA if they cannot receive regular unemployment benefits.
For the time being, claimants are advised to keep filing weekly claims as normal while OED contacts those who may be eligible for the program.
OED described how the program works with the following steps — but the worst case scenario is that a claimant turns out to be truly ineligible and would have to pay back the early benefits:
- As long as claimants qualify for PUA and file weekly regular unemployment claims, the Employment Department will pay these Oregonians their regular unemployment benefit amount until their claim is adjudicated. If, at the end of the adjudication process, it turns out that they qualified for regular unemployment benefits, nothing will change. They will keep getting regular unemployment benefits as long as they file their weekly claims and are eligible.
- If it turns out they didn’t qualify for regular unemployment, then the Employment Department will move their claims into the PUA program. If their PUA weekly benefit amount is higher, the Employment Department will also send them the increase for all the past weeks they got the regular UI amount.
- In the unlikely event this results in overpayment, the person would have to pay it back.
According to OED, “Benefits While You Wait” is not available to people having their claims reviewed because of past or current school work experience, people who need to prove they are legally authorized to work in the U.S., claimants who reported being out of their labor market at least 3.5 days during a week, and some other situations.