Volume of Unemployment Claims ‘Unprecedented,” OESC Reports

  • Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC)
    Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC)
Body

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) is processing unemployment claims and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance at an “unprecedented volume,” an official said today.

“We paid more claims in the first three weeks of the pandemic than OESC did during all 12 months of 2019,” said David Ostrowe, the state Secretary of Digital Transformation.

OESC paid out nearly $433 million in total benefits in the past six weeks, he said. The agency has paid $258 million in federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation since March 15, Ostrowe said.

The agency has paid 432,076 unemployment claims since March 15, and has 63,589 claims still pending, he said.

“With that volume there are bound to be individuals who try to game the system, but this is not impeding our ability to pay legitimate claims as quickly as possible.”

The number of initial unemployment insurance claims declined slightly for a third consecutive week yet remain high, with nearly 275,000 Oklahomans out of work because of the ongoing energy crisis and COVID-19 related job loss.

According to the OESC, unadjusted initial claims for the week ending April 25 totaled 42,577, a decrease from the 46,696 reported a week earlier. That, in turn, was fewer than the previous week’s revised tally of 54,481.

A record number of claims – 60,534 – were filed the week ending April 4, according to the OESC. The previous one-week record was 9,778 initial unemployment claims filed the week that ended on Jan. 12, 1991, ledgers extending back to 1987 reflect.

The OESC reported that continuing claims of jobless workers numbered more than 134,000, an increase of about 22,000 from the week before.

Although the weekly number of initial claims fell for three consecutive weeks, April was “a record-setting month for unemployment in Oklahoma,” OESC Executive Director Robin Roberson said.

Claims Slow, But Layoffs Continue

Despite the slowdown in claims filing, layoffs continued in Oklahoma.

City officials in El Reno announced Thursday that 17 full-time and two part-time employees were laid off, four part-time positions were eliminated, and all non-union workers were asked to take a 10% furlough.

El Reno was jolted last December when Halliburton shut down its command center there, costing the town approximately 600 jobs; some of those positions were relocated to Duncan. But the oilfield service giant laid off 350 workers in Duncan on April 6, and 240 Halliburton manufacturing workers in Duncan lost their jobs on April 29.

“This is a mass layoff and the facility will remain open,” Halliburton spokeswoman Danyelle Huff stated in a notice filed with the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development.

Hertz notified the Workforce Development Office that it laid off 415 workers in Oklahoma City between April 14 and April 20, and Entereprise laid off 329 workers in Tulsa.

Two days after Houston-based Apergy reported a Q1 2020 loss of nearly $660 million, the company announced the closing of its UPCO plant in Claremore and the layoffs of 26 employees. UPCO is a subsidiary of Apergy.

And Canadian company STEP Energy Services added four more employees to its list of those laid off this month at its facilities in McAlester. The company notified the Oklahoma Workforce Development Office last week that it was adding to the 15 employees who were let go in early April.

Nationally, seasonally adjusted initial claims totaled 3,839,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate for the country was 12.4% for the week ending April 25.

OESC Redeploys 300+ Employees

The OESC has redeployed more than 300 employees to focus solely on unemployment fraud, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims processing, and quick reduction in the number of Tier 2 call center claimants seeking resolution on approval of their unemployment application, Ms. Roberson said.

Certain parameters have been established in Gov. Kevin Stitt’s three-phase plan to restart the state’s economy, Ms. Roberson noted. Included among its guidelines are measures employers should take to safeguard employees.

As Oklahoma businesses reopen and recall workers, “It’s important for claimants to answer the call to return to work,” Ms. Roberson said.

Not returning to a job when work is available could be considered “refusal to work” and designated as voluntarily terminating employment. This could potentially disqualify a claimant from receiving unemployment benefits.

If a claimant returns to work full-time, he/she should keep their unemployment claim open with OESC and not certify a weekly claim. If they return part-time, a claimant may continue to certify their weekly claim and must report all gross earnings for the week to potentially receive a partial benefit.

Process for Filing For PUA Explained

Gig workers, independent contractors, self-employed and individuals who have exhausted regular unemployment benefits are encouraged to file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance at https://ui.ok.gov. OESC began processing PUA claims last week.

Step-by-step guidance to assist individuals not eligible for regular unemployment benefits in filing for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) was released Friday by the OESC.

“PUA applicants must first be denied regular unemployment benefits before applying for PUA,” said Secretary of Digital Information Ostrowe. “We’ve streamlined the process and created a step-by-step guide to improve the user experience in filing for assistance.”

OESC, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, and Granicus collaborated to improve the application and notification process in overhauling the antiquated system utilized for decades. “The mainframe at OESC wasn’t created to handle this type of unemployment claim or the number of claims received over the last six weeks,” Ostrowe said.

The step-by-step guide is available online at www.oesc.ok.gov. Applicants can view a Q&A video about PUA at https://biteable.com/watch/pua-2533385.