PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Tens of thousands of Oregonians are going on two months without any income or information on their unemployment claims from the state employment department.
According to the Oregon Employment Department, the state is dealing with a backlog of 38,000 unprocessed Unemployment Insurance claims.
"I have, literally, I think like $100 in my checking account right now," Portland Uber driver Joseph Larson said.
According to @ORemployment - 360k unemployment claims have been processed in the last 2 months, 38k are still backlogged. Many I talked to are pushing 9 weeks with no income and no info on their claims. OED says it has a plan to catch up. More on @fox12oregon at 5 & 6 pic.twitter.com/yEGMv1LRyT— Camila Orti (@CamilaOrtiTV) May 26, 2020
Larson said he's entering his tenth week without income after filing for unemployment on March 26. He said he found out a couple weeks ago through somebody in a different department that his claim was approved, but he still hasn't seen a payment.
"For like the first three weeks, I guess, I called a couple times a day and I have not gotten through once," Larson said.
He took a screenshot of one of his hold times of more than four hours before he said he gave up.
King City behavior analyst Kori Saunby said besides the email confirming that OED received her claim after filing on March 27, she hasn't gotten any information on its status.
"I haven't paid rent since March, I haven't paid my bills," Saunby said. "I'm in survival mode."
Saunby said she was furloughed for five weeks and recently got her job back with reduced hours. In an effort to catch up with bill payments, Saunby said she was forced to pawn her late parents' wedding rings.
"That's all I had left," Saunby said. "That took a huge toll on me but I didn't know what else to do."
OED is scrambling to catch up, too. Director Kay Erickson sent a statement Tuesday, saying in part:
"Oregon is facing unprecedented unemployment and hundreds of thousands of Oregon families are counting on unemployment benefits to pay for their basic needs. While the Oregon Employment Department has paid a record number of Oregonians within two to three weeks, for too many Oregonians, their claims are in a backlog. We know how frustrating it has been for those who are trying to reach us about the status of their claims and have been unable to get through. That is why we are launching Project Focus 100."
According to the statement, the department's goal is to process 100 percent of the backlogged claims as quickly as possible by implementing four main strategies: continue to hire more staffers, focus the most experienced workers on the oldest and most complicated claims, increase contact and communication, and use tech strategies to speed up processing.
Metrics posted to the OED's COVID-19 webpage indicate that the department has increased its work force from 110 people processing claims in early March to 690 staffers in early May.
The department's website reports that more than 360,000 unemployment claims have been processed since March 15, but those are only regular Unemployment Insurance claims. According to the website, data on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims is not available.
FOX 12 reached out to the OED spokesperson on Tuesday but did not get a response.
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