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'We want to help and are willing and able to step up and do our best to help you obtain whatever benefits are owed you.'

Rep. Brad WittDuring this pandemic-caused economic crisis, hundreds of thousands of Oregon families have been counting on their unemployment benefits to pay for their basic needs. The Oregon Employment Department paid a record number of claims within two to three weeks, but for nearly 38,000 Oregonians, their claims are in a backlog.

My staff and I have been working with constituents and state employment officials resolving unemployment issues on a daily basis since this COVID-19 pandemic caused Oregon's economic shutdown. If you are still having problems, we want to help and are willing and able to step up and do our best to help you obtain whatever benefits are owed you. If you would like our assistance, please reach out to me by email (at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), and supply your contact information, unemployment insurance claim number and current address. We will then channel your requests to the appropriate person to best address your needs.

Oregon's Employment Department has been overwhelmed with unemployment applications, (with) unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression. The agency has launched Project Focus 100, a new effort to work through 100% of the claim backlog. To accomplish this goal they will:

• Continue Surge Hiring. The department has increased staffing to process claims. They now have more than six times the number of people processing claims than were in place before the COVID-19 claims began. Hiring and training of new employees will help facilitate every Oregonian receiving the benefits in a timely fashion.

• Focus experienced professional staff on the oldest and most complex claims. For the next two weeks, the department will increase outbound calls to resolve claims that have been waiting the longest. Newer staff will answer the phones, freeing up the more experienced staff to dig into the more difficult cases.

• Increase proactive contact and communication. There is nothing more frustrating than not knowing the status of your claim so the department is piloting new ways to contact Oregonians to update them on pertinent claim information.

• Use technology to close gaps and improve services. These new strategies are already moving claims through processing and the department is working to streamline and improve them.

Even with automation and improved technology, it's helpful to have a person on your side helping to navigate these frustrating times, and that's where I hope my staff and I can be of assistance. Please, don't hesitate to reach out for our help.

While the majority of Oregon counties have entered into Phase 1 reopening, Marion County is still under the most restrictive stay-at-home orders. That is why the Legislative Days Committee meetings will be held remotely over the next couple of weeks.

As is the case with many public spaces, the Capitol Building remains closed to the public, but my office staff and I monitor our email and phones daily, and we are working to assist constituents. If you need help or have an issue or concern, please feel free to contact my office.

Brad Witt is state representative for House District 31, which includes Columbia County and parts of Washington County. A Democrat, he lives in Clatskanie.

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