OKLAHOMA CITY – Almost a quarter of a million claims for unemployment benefits were filed with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) in a recent 35-day period. The agency processed 247,830 initial claims for Unemployment Insurance benefits between March 15 and April 18, records reflect.
Since the first of April the OESC has processed more than 160,000 claims, “which is more than the agency traditionally processes in one full year,” David Ostrowe, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Secretary of Digital Transformation, said Friday.
On a positive note, as the state prepares to reopen for business amid an energy crisis and coronavirus-related job losses, the number of initial unemployment claims fell recently for the second consecutive week.
The previous one-week record was 9,778 initial unemployment claims filed the week that ended on Jan. 12, 1991, OESC ledgers extending back to 1987 reflect.
Meanwhile, for the week ending on April 18, the unadjusted number for continued Oklahoma unemployment claims totaled 111,198.
The OESC has hired an army of claims representatives to staff its call center and online chat feature in order to handle the tsunami of claims for unemployment benefits.
The addition of more than 1,000 helpdesk agents to the call center, plus more than 200 helpdesk agents who assist in Tier 2 calls back to customers, has enabled more than 71,000 Tier 2 claims “to move through the process where they were once stalled,” Ostrowe said.
Nationally, seasonally adjusted initial claims totaled 4.4 million, a decrease of 810,000 from the previous week’s revised number. However, approximately 26 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in five weeks, indicating 1 in
6 American workers is out of a job, the Associated Press reported Thurs- day. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate for the country was 11% for the week ending April 11.
As the OESC looks toward helping revive Oklahoma’s economy, it also will begin issuing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) this week to individuals who don’t qualify for regular Unemployment Insurance benefits, OESC Executive Director Robin Roberson said.
“Independent contractors, gig workers and other self-employed individuals eligible for PUA will have applications processed within a few days,” she said. “We’re making the final changes to our platform to begin issuing PUA relief for COVID-19-related job loss and business closure. We’ve made it easier for these applicants by permitting them to apply for this relief directly.”
Previously an individual had to first be denied eligibility for regular unemployment benefits before applying for the pandemic unemployment benefit. PUA applicants should go to https://ui.ok. gov and pre-apply. These applicants will already be in the pipeline when the agency begins processing these additional claims this week, Roberson said.
If a PUA eligible claimant goes back to work as the state reopens, he/she will still receive backdated unemployment benefits to when their COVID-19-related job loss or business closure occurred, Ms. Roberson said.
Many employers are looking for employees right now at https://okjobmatch.com. There is also the expectation that people should return to work when their employer reopens, Ms. Roberson said.
The Tax Foundation and the U.S. Department of Labor estimate that Oklahoma has enough reserves in its unemployment trust fund to pay benefits for 33 weeks. When asked about the accuracy of that claim, Cyndi Phillips, the OESC’s chief of staff, said Saturday, “I have no information on this at this time.”
The study calculated that Arkansas has sufficient reserves to pay its unemployment claims for 33 weeks; Kansas, 30; Colorado, 27; Nebraska, 26; New Mexico, 24; Missouri and Louisiana, 19 week each.
Six states that collectively account for more than one-third of the U.S. population are currently in a position to pay out fewer than 10 weeks of the unemployment compensation claims that have already come in since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
California is in the worst shape, with only about 26 days’ worth of funding in its unemployment compensation trust fund. Texas has six weeks’ worth; New York, five; Kentucky, seven.
Only six states (Wyoming, Utah, Florida, Oregon, South Dakota and Mississippi) would be able to pay out benefits for a year or more based on current benefit claim levels (although considering Mississippi’s historic low-income levels, it’s doubtful that their unemployment benefits are substantial).