OKLAHOMA CITY – As businesses in Oklahoma begin to reopen, the number of initial unemployment insurance claims filed with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) reached its highest weekly reported level since the onset of the energy and COVID-19 crises.
Unadjusted initial claims in Oklahoma totaled 68,237 for the week ending May 2, according to Cyndi Phillips, OESC chief of staff. That number surpassed the 60,534 unemployment claims filed the week ending April 4.
Until these concurrent crises, the previous one-week record was 9,778 initial unemployment claims filed one week in January 1991, ledgers extending back to 1987 reflect.
More than 375,000 Oklahomans filed for unemployment relief by the week ending May 2, and almost $432 million in total benefits have been paid to claimants during the COVID-19 crisis, OESC reported.
“We paid more claims in the first three weeks of the pandemic than OESC did during all 12 months of 2019,” David Ostrowe, the state Secretary of Digital Transformation, said recently.
Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 20.5 million jobs lost in April, the steepest decline since the government began tracking unemployment numbers. The report shows that 14.7% of the U.S. workforce is unemployed, the most severe joblessness numbers since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“The jump in initial unemployment claims shows the impact the energy crisis and coronavirus are having on our state’s economy and the need for Oklahomans to safely return to their livelihoods,” Ostrowe said. “The record claims numbers include individuals who don’t qualify for regular unemployment benefits but don’t completely account for the spike that occurred last week.”
OESC began processing claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) during the week ending May 2. That process “has increased dramatically over the past four days,” Ms. Phillips said May 7.
“We still have more than 8,000 potential PUA applications that haven’t been completed,” Ostrowe said. “We encourage individuals who don’t qualify for regular unemployment to complete the PUA application.”
PUA applicants must first be denied regular unemployment insurance benefits before applying for the relief provided by the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act. PUA is intended for gig workers, independent contractors, self-employed individuals, and claimants who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits and are out of work due to COVID-19 related job loss or business closure.
Unemployment claimants who do not return to work when recalled could potentially be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
Employers can report this activity by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; by calling 405-962-7524; or by mailing OESC at P.O. Box 52006, Oklahoma City, OK 73152-2006.
A claimant who returns to work full-time should keep his/her unemployment claim open with OESC and not certify a weekly claim. A claimant who returns part-time may continue to certify his/her weekly claim and must report all gross earnings for the week to potentially receive a partial benefit. Eligibility for continued benefits is determined on the circumstances of each individual claimant.
OESC is also focused on connecting Oklahomans with available employment through https://okjobmatch.com/.