All unemployed Oregonians will continue to get uninterrupted supplemental benefits of $300 per week under an extension of federal programs contained in President Joe Biden’s pandemic recovery plan, which is now law.
But for thousands of self-employed and gig workers who have exhausted their federal benefits, and workers who have exhausted federal benefits that kick in once their 26 weeks of state payments stopped, they may have to wait as the Oregon Employment Department programs the extensions into the system.
“It will take us additional time to add the newly created benefits to their claim. We are doing everything we can to minimize that additional time,” acting director David Gerstenfeld told reporters in a weekly conference call.
“It is important that if someone receives a letter informing them their claim is exhausted — meaning they have a zero balance — they should keep filing their weekly claims every week.”
Gerstenfeld said people will be paid benefits retroactively, including the supplemental benefits of $300 per week under what is known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.
Under the American Rescue Plan, federal unemployment benefits were extended 25 weeks from March 13 through Labor Day, although Oregon and most states end the closest claim week on Saturday, Sept. 4.
“Our goal is to have them be paid out by the end of next week,” Gerstenfeld said, for self-employed and gig workers who still qualify for federal benefits, and for workers who still qualify for federal benefits that kick in after they received 26 weeks of payments from the state trust fund. These programs are known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.
For workers in both programs who have exhausted their federal benefits — but are newly eligible for 25 more weeks because of the extensions — Gerstenfeld they will be affected most by the changeover.
“We remain focused on minimizing any disruption some people may see before we are fully able to implement all of the extensions and new aspects of those programs,” he said.
Gerstenfeld said the number of claims in “adjudication,” which require more review by the agency staff, remains around the 6,000 mark. It had been far higher but the backlog has been whittled down.
“We are able to get through those claims much more rapidly than we were before,” he said, and most are now resolved within four to six weeks because they are flagged earlier. “But we will always have some claims that require adjudication.”
Some claims involve a worker with multiple employers, or one who earns money from gigs but also an employer.
“There are still many people needing assistance, and our workload remains extremely high,” Gerstenfeld said.
During the coronavirus pandemic, which now is one year old, the agency has paid out a total of $8.1 billion in state and federal benefits to 569,000 people. Gerstenfeld said that is equivalent to 12 million weeks of benefit payments. For 103,000 self-employed and gig workers, who did not qualify for any unemployment benefits prior to the CARES Act passed last year, they got a total of $676 million.