Lawmakers consider $500 checks to unemployment applicants
The Democratic leaders of the Oregon Legislature say they will support a $35 million set-aside that will provide one-time $500 checks to Oregonians awaiting unemployment benefits.
The item will come up Tuesday, July 14, when the Legislative Emergency Board meets. The 20-member committee considers budget actions between sessions of the full Legislature.
More than 60,000 claims from people newly eligible for benefits — the self-employed, independent contractors, gig and temporary workers, and freelancers — have yet to be processed by the Oregon Employment Department.
The federal CARES Act, signed March 27, makes people in these job categories eligible for benefits for the first time. But the first-time nature of these claims and federal verification requirements, the sheer volume (nearly 100,000) and a 3-decade-old computer system that provides the payments have resulted in the big backlog at the Employment Department.
Acting Director David Gerstenfeld said Aug. 8 is the target for the agency to process claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
"While the department works on processing all the claims, we can make sure desperate Oregonians get some direct cash assistance as soon as possible," House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland said.
The $35 million will come from the state's $1.4 billion share of aid under the CARES Act. The E-Board allocated more than $250 million during a June 5 meeting, and Gov. Kate Brown said she will ask the E-Board to target more aid at the July 14 meeting.
"This isn't a fix, this is a Band-Aid," Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem said. "We need to get cash into the hands of Oregonians who have been waiting on their benefits for months."
The Department of Administrative Services would be directed to get the checks into the hands of waiting recipients. Other details are being worked out.
Applicants for regular unemployment benefits also would be eligible, although the Employment Department reports that relatively few are pending. Of more than a record 505,000 claims filed between March 15 and July 4, the agency reported only 1,249 regular claims awaiting processing as of July 9. Of 38,000 backlogged regular claims dating back to late May, the agency reported only 32 pending.
NOTE: Adds that details are being worked out. The original release by the leaders says the $500 won't affect future benefits, but the agency could propose to deduct them. Also clarifies that the checks are one-time only.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.