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The agency announces the first round will go out by Thanksgiving, but some face a longer wait.

For thousands of unemployed Oregonians waiting months for their waiting-week benefits, Thanksgiving will mean that many will wait no longer.

The acting director of the Oregon Employment Department says the first payments will go out ahead of the target date of Monday, Nov. 30.

David Gerstenfeld made the statement in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

"I am excited to announce that we are not only still on track, but we are in active testing now," he said. "We are now pretty confident that we will be able to begin making those benefit payments to people for the waiting week before Thanksgiving."

People are eligible for the payments if their "waiting week" — the first week they are deemed eligible for benefits but have not been paid for it in the past — falls between March 8 and Jan. 2.

Gerstenfeld said he would provide estimates of how many people will receive waiting-week payments, but they are expected to number in the tens of thousands.

Gov. Kate Brown had ordered a waiver of the "waiting week" months ago. But it took months for the agency to reprogram its mainframe computer system, which dates back to 1993, to make the payments possible.

Gerstenfeld said agency employees had to do this work while dealing with other priorities, such as whittling down backlogs of thousands of claims.

For people whose waiting week fell between March 29 and July 25, they also will be eligible for one more extra $600 weekly payment under the federal CARES Act, in addition to their waiting-week payment. The $600-per-week payments under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program that ended July 25.

For people whose waiting week fell between July 26 and Sept. 5, they also will be eligible for one more extra $300 weekly benefit from funds diverted from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in addition to their waiting-week payment. The $300-per-week payments under the Lost Wages Assistance program ended in most states including Oregon after five weeks, although the authorization runs through Dec. 31.

Most others whose waiting weeks fall outside those programs will get only a single week's payment.

"They do not have to do anything to contact us about it," Gerstenfeld said. "We know who received the waiting-week credit, and we are working through processing those."

The payments will be made within a few business days by the same delivery method as people receive their other benefits.

However, Gerstenfeld said some people — as many as 25% of the total — will require additional work on their claims. He said that includes people receiving extended benefits (13 weeks, paid from federal funds, on top of the regular 26-week benefits) or who are enrolled in Work Share programs negotiated with employers.

"We are confident that most of those payments will be issued by the end of December," he said, although some payments may be made in January. "We have teams of people ready to work on those manual payments, and they are focused on getting that work done as quickly as possible."

But Gerstenfeld said, if people's waiting-week period made them eligible for the original $600 or $300 payments, they will get the extra money even if the waiting-week payments are made in January.

Not eligible for waiting-week payments are self-employed workers and others in the federal program known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Also among those in the program are freelancers, independent contractors, gig and temporary workers.

Congress created that program under the CARES Act to cover workers who were ineligible for benefits under the current unemployment system, since they do not pay taxes levied on employers. Gerstenfeld said there is no waiting-week requirement for that program, so they do not qualify for waiting-week payments.

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