During the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, Oregon was much slower to handle most unemployment claims than most states, and thousands of laid-off workers usually waited weeks or months. Get their money.
In the unprecedented wave of layoffs last spring, when every state was struggling to pay benefits, Oregon seemed unusually slow. A new analysis of federal data by Oregonian/OregonLive shows that the state’s payout ratio for timely payments on a standard three-week federal benchmark is generally less than half the national average.
Oregon has been catching up all year round, even as the economic situation of many people has deteriorated. According to data collected by the US Department of Labor, Oregon is one of the slowest claims among the long-delayed claims nationwide.
For example, in August, more than one-third of people receiving their first benefit waited at least 70 days. This is higher than any other state and is consistent with the ranking of Oregon in other months.
In addition, the federal agency stated that Oregon was the only state that did not claim compensation within the first week after a worker was unemployed, the so-called “waiting week.”
Oregon owes hundreds of millions of dollars to workers who lost their jobs from March to August, and department head David Gerstenfeld said he doesn’t want it until the end of November, eight months after Congress approves federal payments. payment.
The Oregon Employment Department stated that federal timeliness data overestimated Oregon’s delays relative to other states. On the one hand, because these figures do not account for the backlog of unpaid claims that is still accumulating elsewhere, on the other hand, because Oregon has focused on paying the oldest claims first, this makes the state seem unusual. Share of delay.
However, regardless of the length of the payment delay, Oregon’s response data remained consistent throughout the spring and summer, and was always at or near the lowest point of the national ranking.
“I feel very frustrated with them. 37-year-old Jill Heininge of Tualatin said. In March, her child’s daycare was closed, and the summer ran out of her savings while scraping while And took care of three children before returning to work.
The department informed her last spring that she rejected her request and waited for more information about why she was unemployed. Like many other Oregonians, Henninger called the department regularly and sent emails via email, but she did not receive a reply until Thursday, until she received a voicemail from the Oregon Employment Department, indicating that it was now ready Investigate her case.
“They are really cruel to people, do you know?” Heininger said. She said she believed the department owed her $10,000 in benefits.
Hainingning said: “I know they take care of a lot of people, but they need a better process of communicating with others.”
Since Oregon began shutting down the coronavirus in March, Oregon has paid more than $5 billion in unemployment benefits, and it now processes new claims almost immediately. But 48,000 people are still waiting for a ruling on the old claims, and it may take the state several months to resolve the backlog of cases.
The root cause of the Oregon problem is well known. The employment sector suffered a decade of dysfunction. Although the state received $86 million in funding for technological transformation in 2009, the state has not been able to function. The state has replaced outdated computers since the 1990s (the state still has Almost all the money.)
Each of the last three directors in the employment department was fired or asked to leave, most recently in May, when Governor Kate Brown replaced Kay Erickson as department head.
A new analysis of federal data shows that Oregon (at least initially) is slower than many states in paying claims:
- Before the pandemic, the state of Oregon paid prompt payments to almost all the unemployed within a three-week base time. By August, only 31% of the claims were paid during this period, half of the national average.
- Among the claims paid in August, Oregon was delayed by at least five weeks, the highest claim rate nationwide.
- In September, only Kentucky (except Kentucky) ranked 36th in the timely payment rate of Oregon after all states. (Some states have not yet submitted data for September.)
“I’m not surprised. In some strange way, I think I am happy to know that there is no worse place than Oregon, because people’s experiences are more miserable,” said Senator Mark Hass of D-Beaverton. At the legislative hearing last summer, the head of the employment department.
Like other lawmakers, Hass said his office was surrounded by phone calls and emails from voters who were unable to receive unemployment benefits. He proposed a major overhaul of the employment department and suggested that Oregon merge it with the state’s economic development agency.
Haas said: “I hope they set up a task force or a committee to reorganize the entire department.” “Give it a new name, give it a new mission, and put some change agents who understand their mission there. “
The head of the agency Gerstenfeld (Gerstenfeld) said that federal data on payments on time does not accurately reflect the state’s current performance. He said that Oregon’s historical figures are biased because they cover up claims that other states have completely unpaid, and Oregon has decided to give priority to the oldest claims.
Gestenfeld said: “I don’t think this means that Oregon is at the bottom in all respects.”
Like other states, Oregon was in trouble during the first few days of the pandemic—it received as many unemployment applications in a few weeks as it did in the whole year. Since then, Gerstenfeld said the state has made steady progress in reducing the number of people waiting to benefit.
“The backlog of orders is definitely increasing. It is definitely growing, and it increased sharply in March and April. Moreover, it started to take a lot of effort to reduce it.” Gerstenfeld said. He said that the federal data is incomplete, and even if other states continue to increase their backlogs, they cannot reflect the state’s progress in catching up.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the employment sector has made significant progress, although it is not shown in federal data. This is because the data shows how long people have to wait to pay past claims, not how quickly new claims are now paid.
Gerstenfeld said that new claims are now usually processed externally within a few days or within a few weeks. He said that although Oregon is gradually reducing its backlog, some states are still increasing its backlog.
Gerstenfeld said: “As long as we focus on making the oldest claims first, we will continue to pay for these claims and make them look bad.”
He added that Oregon has moved relatively quickly this year to implement some new welfare plans, especially the $600 weekly bonus approved by Congress in March and the $300 temporary weekly benefit that began in August. (Both of these benefits have expired.)
However, Gerstenfeld admitted that Oregon is the last payer of the waiting time, which means that thousands of Oregonians have been waiting for months of federal payments, each paying at least $800. The Department of Defense said it is expected to pay for the waiting week before the end of November, but if it misses this goal and does not pay by the end of the year, Oregon may confiscate hundreds of millions of dollars in special funds. Laid-off workers.
Gerstenfeld said: “I don’t think Oregon ranks first in terms of waiting for weekly wages.”
Chris Koski, a professor of political science at Reed College, said that government agencies that encounter problems during the boom will exacerbate these problems during the boom. He said that in institutions such as the employment department, most citizens are interacting with them, but they often do not receive the necessary supervision to identify and eliminate problems before the crisis breaks out.
Koski said: “The legislature did not really give them a lot of attention during the boom.” “This approach allows the culture of the workplace to be deeply rooted in the hearts of the people without much supervision.”
However, Koski said that Oregon seems to have some unique features that prevent it from solving long-term problems or successfully addressing major new initiatives. He pointed to the state’s poorly performing education system and the failed Cover Oregon healthcare portal.
Koski says that a country dominated by a party (whether it is a Democrat or a Republican) often lacks the competitive incentive to find and identify long-term problems. Perhaps Oregonians are too focused on electing leaders. They have great hopes for solving high-profile themes, and are reluctant to propose talented and interested politicians to ensure that government agencies perform their basic functions well.
Koski said: “It doesn’t seem that we don’t have a tax base to deal with these kinds of things.” “There are other things happening.”
-Mike Rogoway | Twitter: @rogoway | 503-294-7699