The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) reported Thursday that they have experienced a record number of people filing for unemployment mirroring national record numbers filing claims.
Some applicants are not having any problems and some are. We talked to representatives of both groups.
Unemployment numbers in Oklahoma continue to rise as the outbreak of Covid-19 continues.
For the week ending March 28, the unadjusted initial claims in Oklahoma totaled 44,970, up 23,044 from the previous record-setting adjusted week high of 21,926 according to Cyndi Phillips with the OESC.
Non-essential businesses that cannot be transitioned to work at home are faced with tough choices, and often the decision to lay off workers is one of the ways to keep a small business afloat when no income is coming in.
That scenario is being repeated across Oklahoma and the nation spurring laid off workers to seek unemployment payments.
“To call this unprecedented doesn’t being to explain the enormity of the impact COVID-19 related job losses are having on our state and our economy,” said OESC Executive Director Robin Roberson in a news release. “We know people are anxious. We know people want to work. We know assistance is needed and we appreciate Oklahomans working with us to process this tsunami-like wave of claims quickly and efficiently.”
The state has taken action to make filing for unemployment easier but things are still slow going for now.
“Out of 1998”
OESC offices are closed in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, and their call centers are experiencing long wait times, even disconnecting some callers. Those filing for unemployment for the first time don’t need to call or come in. The entire process happens online.
Problems with filing seem to range from mild to severe.
“The biggest initial issue was the website. It looks straight out of 1998, and their servers were clearly not prepared for the traffic they received. It took several tries over a few days just for me to get through and file. After that, it only took two days to get a letter in the mail.” Lucas Dunn told Free Press after he filed.
In Lucas’ case, everything seemed to go pretty much as expected, but that’s not always the case.
Angie Love Ward worked two jobs, and is now still trying to untangle her unemployment application. She has her own massage/energy healing business, and a part-time job with a retailer. After days of trying to get her application in on the website something strange happened.
“Yesterday, I get two letters from them. One stating my benefits for Ross because that’s all it pulled up when I first applied. Shows I get $58 a week. The other was from the second time that I went in to add my wages for self-employment,” Ward told Free Press. “It was interpreted as somebody trying to file unemployment on me. So now I have 10 days to reply to that.”
“But I’ve been trying to call in for 5 days,” she added. “They are so overwhelmed that I can’t even get put on hold to wait. “
“Impossible to reach anyone”
After approval applicants will be sent a debit card and unemployment payments will be deposited onto it. The cards are administered by the payment processor Conudent, a private company based in New Jersey.
Christina Owen told Free Press about her husband’s unemployment journey.
“He was accepted for unemployment, but then we never received the card. He can see that he has 4 weeks of payment, but we don’t have the card. Now it’s near impossible to reach anyone to fix falling through the cracks,” Owen said.
The deposits are going into the account, but Owen was told that the card itself is still waiting to be shipped from the third-party that administers the payment cards.
“We could order another one, but we’re having to pay $15 for an expedited card. I’ll fight the $15 fee later. Shouldn’t have to pay for a card that’s a month late. We’ll see when it arrives.” said Owen.
A new demographic of worker
While a large number of employers in Oklahoma City have reduced staff, the record numbers may also be partially due to expanded options for out of work Oklahomans that were previously barred from filing unemployment.
OESC is still waiting on the funding from the CAREs act, which expanded the amount of time people can claim unemployment, increases the amount of money they are able to receive and for the first time extends unemployment benefits to gig workers and the self-employed.
“We’re grateful we will be able to provide temporary relief to individuals previously ineligible for unemployment insurance,” said Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Robin Roberson in a news release Wednesday.
The Federal Department of Labor is still hashing out eligibility requirements for gig workers and the self employed but states should expect funding and guidelines to be handed down in mid-April.
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