Oregon was slowest to deliver jobless benefits after epidemic

During the early months of the Oregon coronovirus epidemic, unemployment benefit claims moved more slowly than most states addressing the Holocaust, with tens of thousands of workers regularly having to wait weeks or months for their money.

While every state struggled to pay benefits during an unprecedented wave of layoffs last spring, Oregon appears to be exceptionally slow. According to a new analysis of federal data conducted by The Oregonian / OregonLive, the state was often less than half as high as to pay claims within the standard, a three-week federal benchmark for timely payments compared to the national average.

Oregon had been playing catch-up all year, even as the financial condition of many had deteriorated. According to data collected by the US Department of Labor, Oregon was at a very slow pace in the midst of long delayed claims.

For example, in August, more than one-third of those receiving their first payment of benefits waited at least 70 days. It has a higher share than any other state and is consistent with Oregon’s ranking in other months.

Additionally, the federal agency states that Oregon is the only state to pay claims for the first week after workers lost their jobs, the so-called “waiting week.”

Oregon owes millions of dollars to workers who lost their jobs between March and August, and department head David Gerstenfeld says he expects to be paid before the end of November, eight months after Congress authorized federal payments Is not.

The Oregon Department of Employment says federal timeliness data eliminate Oregon’s delays relative to other states. This is partly because the numbers still do not accrue elsewhere for a backlog of unpaid claims, and partly because Oregon has focused on paying back the oldest claims – leading to a state delay Is an unusual part of.

Yet Oregon’s response data remained consistent throughout spring and summer, regardless of the length of payment delays, and was always at or near the bottom of the national rankings.

“I am very disappointed with him. It really brings tears to my eyes, ”said Jill Henning, 37, of Tulatin. She quit her job as an addiction counselor in March when her children’s daycare closed recently before returning to work and her savings were exhausted during the summer, caring for and caring for three young children.

The department informed her last spring that she had denied her claim, pending more information about why she was out of work. Like many other Oregonians, Heninne regularly called and emailed the department, but received no response until Thursday, when she received a voicemail from the Oregon Department of Employment indicating that she would no longer be looking into her case. Is ready.

“It’s really wonky that they do this to people, you know?” Henning said. She said she believed the department gave her a $ 10,000 benefit.

“I know they have a lot of people who take care of them,” Henning said, “but they need a better process of communicating with people.”

Oregon has paid more than $ 5 billion in unemployment benefits since the state’s coronovirus shutdown began in March, and it now processes new claims almost immediately. But 48,000 people still await the old claims and the state may take months to work through the backlog.

The source of Oregon’s problems is well understood. The employment department faced a decade of laxity that prevented the state from replacing obsolete computers since the 1990s, even though it received $ 86 million to fund a technology overhaul in 2009 (the state still has nearly All the money.)

Each of the last three directors of the employment department has been fired or asked to leave, most recently in May when Kew Brown replaced Kay Irickson as department head.

New analysis of federal data shows that Oregon began more slowly, at least initially, than many states that paid claims:

  • Prior to the epidemic, Oregon was paying almost every unemployed claim within a three-week benchmark for timely payments. As of August, only 31% of claims were paid during that period, half the national average.
  • Of the claims paid in August, Oregon had the most share of claims made at least five weeks late.
  • In September, Oregon overtook every state except Kentucky for timely payments at 36%. (Some states are yet to submit their September figures.)

“I’m not surprised and in some strange way I feel relieved to know that there are no worse places than Oregon, where people have even more miserable experiences,” Sen. Mark Hah, D-Beaverton, What was important was the employment department during a legislative hearing last summer.

Like other lawmakers, Haas said his office has been besieged by calls and emails from constituents who were unable to secure their unemployment benefits. He has proposed a major change to the employment department, stating that Oregon will combine it with the state’s economic development agency.

“My hope is that they have formed a task force or a commission to revive the entire department,” Haas said. “Give it a new name, give it a new mission, put some people in it who are change agents who understand their mission.”

The agency’s head, Gerstenfield, said that federal data on timely payments does not accurately reflect how the state is performing now. He said Oregon’s historical numbers are small, because they obscure claims in other states that have gone completely unpaid, and because Oregon has decided to prioritize the oldest claims.

“I don’t think it shows that Oregon is at the bottom of the pack for everything,” Gerstenfield said.

Like other states, Oregon was wall-mounted in the early days of the epidemic – receiving jobless claims in a few weeks as it does throughout the year. Since then, Gerstenfield said the state had made steady progress in reducing the number of people waiting for its benefits.

“The backlog was absolutely growing. It was growing at all and rising dramatically in March and April. And it took a lot of effort to bring it back, ”Gerstenfield said. He said federal data is an incomplete picture, and does not reflect the progress the state has made in capturing it, as other states also continue to add their own backlog.

The employment department has performed progressively since the epidemic’s early months, even though it does not appear in federal figures. This is because the data shows how many people had to wait to pay the previous claims, not how quickly the newly filed claims were being paid.

Gerstenfeld said new claims are now being processed within a couple of weeks, usually within a few days or outside. He said some states are still connecting with their backlog, while Oregon is constantly distancing itself.

“As long as we’re focused on making the oldest claims, we’ll keep making those payments and keep those numbers going bad,” Gerafeld said.

He said Oregon moved relatively quickly to implement some new benefit programs this year, most notably the $ 600 weekly bonus payment Congress approved in March, and a temporary $ 300 weekly benefit that began in August. (Both of those benefits have expired.)

However, Gerstenfeld acknowledged that the Oregon wait is the last in paying weeks, meaning that many thousands of Oregonians have been waiting for months for federal payments of at least $ 800. The department says it is on track to pay a waiting week until the end of November, but if it misses that goal – and doesn’t pay until the end of the year – Oregon’s millions risk millions of millions of dollars. Were added. -Off workers

“I don’t dispute that Oregon is at the bottom of the list to get paid for the waiting week,” Gerstenfield said.

Reed College political science professor Chris Koski said government agencies that have problems during good times are exacerbated during bad times. And he said that an agency such as the Employment Department, which most citizens interact with from time to time, often does not receive the necessary oversight to identify and eliminate problems before the crisis hits.

“They are not noticed by legislatures during good times,” Koski said. “This thus allows workplace cultures to be embedded and not overshadowed.”

Yet Cossey said that there seems to be something specific about Oregon that prevents it from fixing old problems, or helping to successfully deal with major new initiatives. He points to the state’s weak education system and failed cover Oregon Healthcare Portal, among other examples.

States that are dominated by a political party – be it Democrats or Republicans – often lack the competitive drive to find and identify issues over long periods of time, Cossey said. Or perhaps Oregonians also focus on election leaders who make big promises about addressing high profile topics and keep government agencies ahead of politicians with the qualifications and interest to do their basic tasks well Are less inclined to.

“It’s not, if we don’t have a tax base to deal with that kind of thing,” Koski said. “Something else is going on.”

– Mike Roseway | Twitter: @rogoway | 503-294-7699