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State Employment Department hired new people and shifted staff to deal with expected massive increase in claims.

PMG FILE PHOTO - More than 70,000 people filed unemployment claims in mid-March. It was a record number. The state expects more as the economy grinds to a halt.More than 70,000 Oregonians filed for unemployment benefits in mid-March.

The state Employment Department reported Thursday, March 26, that it received more than 76,500 initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits during the week of March 15. For the first three days of the week of March 22, initial claims have been tracking at record levels. It comes as a sharp increase from 4,900 initial claims filed during the week of March 8.

The Employment Department is taking several measures to meet the unprecedented need for unemployment benefits, which is largely due to reduced hours and layoffs related to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The Employment Department has been working for the past few weeks to boost the performance and stability of the state's online claims system. The agency also hired new employees and shifted staff, doubling the number of employees working on unemployment claims.

Department officials said the higher number of claims could lead to longer wait times, as the department works to gather and process the details factoring into each individual claimant's eligibility and weekly benefit amount.

Most of the unemployment claims (10,700) came from the leisure and hospitality sector, which includes hotels and restaurants. About 2,100 claims came from health care workers. Another 1,400 came from the retail industry.

Multnomah, Washington and Lane counties had the largest number of processed claims during the week of March 15. The largest increases in initial claims occurred in Union and Clatsop counties.


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