Unemployment in Oklahoma still rearing its ugly head, however making strides

Coronavirus

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The number of Oklahomans without a job is rising by the day.

About 200,000 people have filed for unemployment in the past four weeks. A quarter of them filed in just the last week.

Phones have been ringing off the hook inside the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission for those past four weeks. Several callers say they’re still having issues.

“I’m like in limbo. I have no idea what’s going on,” said Bridget McCune, a furloughed JCPenney worker having issues claiming unemployment.

“It’s creating quite a bit of a hardship on the family,” said Ronald Lewis, a furloughed Hobby Lobby employee having issues claiming unemployment.

Thousands of people in the state are left with no stable income at the moment. Information released by the OESC Thursday shows that 50,000 people applied for unemployment just last week.

“It really kind of hit us, you know – it blindsided us,” said Robin Roberson, executive director of the OESC.

Roberson said employees inside taking the phone calls are facing unprecedented numbers.

“Keep in mind that our staff’s used to processing 1,500 to 2,000 claims per week,” Roberson said.

Roberson even put it in perspective.

“If you can just imagine driving through a McDonald’s and ordering 50,000 hamburgers at one time, that’s really about what you see at our office,” she said.

Ronald Lewis is one of those people left on the outside looking in. He was furloughed by Hobby Lobby last week and still hasn’t received his emergency pay from the company yet. Instead, he’s spending hours on hold with the OESC.

“It was probably about a quarter to 3,” he said. “I was on hold until 8 p.m. that night.”

Bridget McCune said she is also struggling after being furloughed by JCPenney.

“It’s starting to get hard now, because now I’m going to be without a paycheck,” McCune said.

According to Roberson, more staff, training and specialists are coming in to help fix these issues. Roberson said they have taken small steps forward already.

“We went from eight hours of wait time. Today, I’m very happy to report we got that down to about 13 minutes,” she said.

A lot of big changes are coming with the CARES Act provisions that were passed in Washington weeks ago. Some of those provisions are already in place.

Roberson said they have already issued 44,000 claims dealing with the additional $600 in unemployment from that act. Others, however, will have to wait a little longer.

Roberson said they have to do some more programming to equipment to process the claims of self-employed contractors and gig workers.

“Independent contractors please be patient. We’re working on it,” she said.

Roberson said she hopes to have that process taken care of in about 10 days, while at the same time hoping to have everything running smoothly soon after.

“I would say within two weeks, we’ll be humming right along,” Roberson said.

In the meantime, there is a virtual town hall meeting Friday at 1 p.m. for anyone to have their questions answered regarding the filing for unemployment process. You can register for that by clicking here. You may participate in the town hall by also using this link: https://video.teleforumonline.com/video/streaming.php?client=19272.

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