Some Oregon workers are getting unemployment benefits they may be eligible for, but the acting director of the Employment Department says they will need to tell his agency so — or they could be compelled to repay the money to the federal government.
David Gerstenfeld said a glitch resulted in some people receiving up to six weeks of benefits under the federal Lost Wages Assistance program without them certifying they are actually eligible for the money. The maximum $300-per-week payments went to people who were eligible between July 26 — the day after their eligibility for $600-per-week payments ended after four months under another federal program — and Sept. 5.
Gerstenfeld said that unlike regular benefits from the state unemployment trust fund — benefits that people must claim each week after they are deemed eligible — people need to certify just once (not six times) that they are eligible for the federal payments because the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to lose their jobs or work fewer hours.
This recertification step is unnecessary for self-employed and gig workers receiving federal benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — these workers by definition have been affected by the pandemic — and for most who receive benefits under WorkShare programs, which are negotiated between employers and the Employment Department.
Gerstenfeld spoke Wednesday, Oct. 28, during a weekly conference call with reporters.
Oregon received more than $400 million of the $44 billion that President Donald Trump ordered transferred in disaster funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Much of that money has been paid out, but Gerstenfeld said some people still await their benefits, while others got money they did not apply for.
"We encourage anyone who has not yet self-certified to do so as soon as they can," he said, by using the online-claims feature at https://unemployment.oregon.gov.
"If someone receives Lost Wages Assistance benefits and are found not to be eligible, federal law considers those to be overpayments and requires us to collect those amounts. We will work with people to do that in the best way possible."
No new payments are planned under the Lost Wages Assistance program, which all states except South Dakota took part in. Congress is in a dispute over whether there will be supplemental unemployment benefits, and the issue is likely to resurface in a post-election session.
Meanwhile, Oregon has won an extension to Nov. 27 for people to apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance, another program under FEMA. This program provides individual assistance for people who have lost their jobs or are working reduced hours in eight counties specifically affected by the Labor Day wildfires.
The counties include Clackamas, Marion and Linn counties, all affected by the Riverside and Beachie Creek fires.
So far, this program has paid out $130,000 to 109 people. Gerstenfeld described it as a safety-net program for people who are ineligible for any other form of unemployment benefits.
"An even larger number of people who were impacted by the fires were helped by some of the many other benefit programs we are providing right now," he said.
He said previously that agency employees combed through pending benefit applications in an attempt to help people who lived in wildfire-affected areas. For applicants who have moved elsewhere as a result of the wildfires and dislocations, Gerstenfeld said they should let the agency know through a contact-us link on unemployment.oregon.gov how they can be reached if there are questions about their applications.
NOTE: Specifies exceptions for workers who do not need to recertify in order to receive Lost Wages Assistance benefits.
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