SALEM, Ore. — On Tuesday, freshly appointed Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, R-Stayton, took aim at both the state's employment agency and Governor Kate Brown for their response to skyrocketing unemployment claims — which he called "bureaucratic failures."
Girod's statement comes on the same day that the Oregon Employment Department revealed that unemployment has reached a record high of 14.2 percent in the state.
“Senate Republicans have received endless messages from newly-unemployed Oregonians that are suffering. They have not been given the help they were told would be available. Many have called or emailed the Oregon Employment Department hundreds of times, only to wait for an answer that doesn’t come, give up and try again for weeks on end," Girod said.
Last week, the leader of state House Democrats acknowledged similar difficulties for Oregonians seeking to file unemployment claims, urging "bold action" from the Employment Department to address backlogged claims. Unlike Girod, however, Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, did not lay the blame at Governor Brown's feet.
Girod cited multiple audits, including during Brown's tenure as Secretary of State, saying that "each time" the agency was given recommendations that the outdated computer systems should be replaced. Upon closer inspection, only the 2015 audit under Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins — the most recent audit referenced by Girod — specifically recommended that the system be replaced.
That said, Oregon did receive $85.6 million in federal funding in 2009 for OED to make improvements, including updating its computer systems — but the agency appears to have been incredibly slow in using the funding to make those changes.
"Instead of using the over a decade of time to complete the technological upgrades, the project had just started when the COVID-19 pandemic hit," Girod's statement said. "This blatant inaction by Governor Brown and OED is the source of the unemployment debacle Oregonians experience today."
“There is no excuse for this bureaucratic failure on a problem that should have been avoided with ample time and resources, and the responsibility rests with Governor Brown and the Oregon Employment Department," Girod continued. "The people of Oregon deserve better.”