5 minute read

Each day an increasing number of people are seeking a resolution to unemployment claim problems by waiting in line at the main Oklahoma Employment Commission (OESC) offices on the Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City.

unemployment
The line as it stretched down the east side of the Will Rogers Building that houses the OESC. The line stretch on around two other sides to the front door on the opposite side of the building. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

The line

Friday morning Free Press visited the line wrapped from the door in the middle of the west side of the Will Rogers Building and around the south and east sides. The building is the home of the OESC.

Some in the front of the line had been there since around 8:00 p.m. the night before. Some had heavy coats on to help them weather the night air over night. Others slept in small camping tents they brought.

It was a weary, quiet crowd of around 250.

An OESC staff person was handing out forms that had been numbered up to 170. That is the number that the OESC says they can handle in one day with social distancing to keep everyone safe once inside.

Last three

We talked to the last three people who received the last three forms: 168, 169, and 170.

Alisha received form number 170. She said that she has “called and called and still couldn’t get a response” on her back pay for being unemployed.

We asked how it felt to be the last one to get a form.

“I’m going to get in there and it’s going to be okay,” she said after not making the cut two other previous mornings. “But, I feel really bad for the people behind me. It’s very sad to see people in tents.”

unemployment
An OESC employee hands an entry form to Misty Roma (black mask) June 26 near the end of the 170 people allowed into the OESC offices daily. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Courtney got form number 169. She was at the OESC last week to clear things up. She has received no unemployment pay for eight weeks. They were supposed to call back Monday but had not so she came to stand in line again Friday.

There was a mix-up as to whether or not she was an employee of a particular business that told her they listed her as a furloughed employee.

But, the OESC had her listed as not.

She said her experience with the OESC system has been “wait after wait after wait and you give them a call and you can’t talk to anybody.” Friday was her third time to come and wait, this time finding success.

Tawana got form number 168. She said she had joined the line at 5:30 a.m. Friday. She had to physically bring in her W-2 IRS forms to show OESC staff in order to be eligible for payments. There had been a problem with the State of Oklahoma getting her employment forms from the State of Colorado where she lived before moving to Oklahoma.

“I haven’t been paid in 15 weeks,” Tawana said.

First 25

OESC
OESC Interim Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

We then moved around the building and talked with several that were within the first ten to be in line.

They said they had been on the line since around 8:30 p.m. the night before. They all seemed profoundly patient for people who had slept outside overnight in order to get a good spot in the line.

“If it worked I wouldn’t be here,” said Nora whose fiance was waiting with her for moral support. “It’s been weeks trying to get my birthdate mistake corrected and it takes matching birthdate to your Social Security card.”

They were about number 25 in the line and were happy to finally get a chance to go in and get assistance with her stalled application.

We talked to Kerry who was about the 6th person in line. He had a hand full of papers and was about half-way through the process. He said he had trouble with the website then “couldn’t get anybody on the phone.” So, he came in and had been waiting since the night before.

OESC events

Late Friday after at least three days of negative TV and press exposure, the OESC announced in a press release and on their Twitter account that they were adding several events in large venues to try and clear the backlog of those who needed to see someone in person.

“In order to better serve Oklahomans, OESC will be hosting multiple days of in-person, socially-distanced claim processing events in the coming weeks,” the release read.

Then, the release gave some information.

“The first of these events will take place in Oklahoma City at the Reed Conference Center on July 1-2 and July 8-9, from 7am-7pm.”

The Reed Conference Center, which is actually in Midwest City, will give much more space to allow more people needing help to be seen.

A Tweet on the OESC Twitter account gave the following instructions:

Claims processed

Thursday, the commission announced the following numbers of unemployment claims processed since March 1 when the pandemic started taking its toll on the economy.

Unemployment Insurance (UI) Claims

  • Total UI claims processed March 1 – June 21: 586,460
  • Total UI claims approved: 234,437
  • Total UI claims denied: 350,041
  • Total UI claims in review: 1,982

Pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) Claims

  • Total PUA claims processed March 1 – June 21: 46,518
  • Total PUA claims approved: 12,221
  • Total PUA claims denied: 7,145
  • Total PUA claims in review: 990


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