$300 weekly unemployment supplement delay for Oklahomans due to outdated technology

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An approved $300 in supplemental unemployment pay shouldn’t be expected by Oklahomans until at least the end of the month, and once again it boils down to outdated technology at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

“I fully expect to have the runaround and everything else on this $300 back pay,” said Aaron Haughey.

He’s been trying to get unemployment since he lost his job in March, so he’s more than jaded with the commission.

Complications with his case prevented him from getting paid for the first three months of his unemployment.

“Multiple calls and online chats with their agents who just give you the runaround and tell you nothing,” Haughey said.

He figures he’s owed about $13,000 in back pay. It’s money he needs to help take care of his family.

“I’ve got bills piling up, I’ve got a $1400 electric bill, I’ve had the electric shut off on my, my gas shut off on me,” he said. 

He has low expectations for getting even more back pay once the $300 in Lost Wage Assistance once it finally kicks in for Oklahomans.

The money was approved to come from FEMA mid-July. However, Shelley Zumwalt, director of the OESC, said it won’t start going out to Oklahomans until the end of the month because of the system the commission has been saddled with.

“Every single thing that goes, payments, claims, every single thing that we do for claimants has to go through this 40-year-old mainframe,” Zumwalt said, “and when I say that, I think people are really tired off hearing it, I know, I’m tired of it, too.”

She said she understands that adjusting the system for the $300 instead of the $600 may not seem complicated, but changing where the money is coming from, and who is eligible is not only complicated, but time consuming.

“Putting in multiple changes in a short amount of time and trying to make sure through testing that we get it right the first time and can distribute those benefits retroactively to August 1,” Zumwalt said.

That’s also when she said an 18-month overhaul of the OESC technology will begin. When Zumwalt was hired on, the commission was in the middle of an existing 5-year plan to update.

“Because the existing plan was made in 2018 without any knowledge of coronavirus, the economy that we’re seeing right now, the amount of people that we’re seeing laid off,” Zumwalt said. “Looking at that and then reformulating that plan was something that was a priority, and is a priority, and we will kick off that technology plan this month.”

It’s technology she hopes will prevent massive, months-long issues like the ones Oklahomans have been dealing with all year.

“The thing that I also want people to know is this is not just 18 months of me saying it’s coming, it’s coming,” Zumwalt said. “This is 18 months of phased accomplishments and progress that will be visible to the claimants throughout the process.”

Friday afternoon, Zumwalt said her team will be working to address Haughey’s back pay issues over the weekend and on Monday.

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