OKLAHOMA CITY – The State Extended Benefits (SEB) program, which was intended to provide up to 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to jobless Oklahomans, ends this Saturday, December 12.
The suspension will affect recipients of SEB and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation recipients who would have qualified for the extended benefits. SEB payments have been based on a claimant’s wages and are benefits paid only after an individual has exhausted other types of unemployment assistance.
The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) was notified last week by the U.S. Department of Labor that the State Extended Benefits program “no longer meets the requirements to remain in effect.” The DOL regulates SEB “and it has specific criteria related to unemployment numbers for the benefits to be in effect,” OESC spokesman Nick Buscemi said. “The expiration of the benefits was dependent on the criteria the DOL has in place.”
“We know this is sooner than many people expected and is faster than we expected, as well,” OESC Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said. “The pandemic and its associated consequences triggered this benefit, which is regulated by DOL, for the first time since the 1980s,” she said. “The agency will continue to work with claimants to ensure they’re able to access the benefits they qualify for and answer any questions regarding this DOL requirement.”
Oklahoma was one of several states that received notification of this change from DOL, Ms. Zumwalt said. At least 32 states are expected tobeoffSEBbytheendof the year, she said.
CARES FUNDING EXPIRES DEC. 26
The U.S. Congress in March passed the CARES Act that began the temporary instatement of both Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs.
PEUC was derived from the CARES Act and provides jobless workers an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits after their traditional 26 weeks of Unemployment Insurance benefits expire.
PUA and PEUC are temporary programs that have helped OESC provide benefits to claimants, Zumwalt said. However, the CARES Act funding for these programs is set to expire on December 26, she announced.
INITIAL CLAIMS FALL TO LEVEL NOT SEEN SINCE MID-MARCH
Meanwhile, the OESC again reported a decline in initial and continued unemployment claims.
Continuing claims fell by roughly 20%, Buscemi reported, and initial claims dropped more than 50%, to a pre-pandemic level.
For the week ending November 28, the unadjusted advance number of initial claims numbered 2,657. The last time initial claims were fewer than 3,000 was the week of March 14, when first- time claims totaled 1,836, OESC ledgers reflect. The following week initial claims shot up to almost 22,000.
First-time filings for unemployment benefits peaked at 93,885 during the week ending May 2, the OESC reported.
Prior to the arrival of Covid-19 and the collapse in the energy industry, triggering massive job losses, the previous highest week for initial claims for unemployment benefits in Oklahoma occurred almost 30 years ago: 9,778 initial unemployment claims filed one week in January 1991, ledgers extending back to 1987 reflect.
The advance unadjusted number of continued claims for the week that ended November 28 totaled 38,821. That was the lowest number of continuing claims in eight months, OESC records indicate.
“While it is encouraging to see this significant decrease in our claims numbers ... we continue to carefully monitor the factors that could influence our state’s unemployment rate, including seasonal adjustments to employment and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Zumwalt said.
AREA JOBLESS RATES
The statewide unemployment rate in October was 6.1%, the OESC reported on December 3.
Among southwest Oklahoma counties, unemployment rates included: Comanche and Caddo, 6.2% each; Cotton, 6.5%; Jackson and Tillman, 4.0% each; Kiowa, 5.3%; Harmon, 3.7%; Greer, 8.0%; and Jefferson, 6.6%.
The highest unemployment rate in October was 11.2% in Latimer County, in southeastern Oklahoma, while the lowest was 2.0% in Cimarron County, in the Panhandle.