500 unemployed Oklahomans helped at OESC event Wednesday; Thursday already at capacity

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MIDWEST CITY (KFOR) – At least 1,000 people showed up at the Reed Conference Center in Midwest City Wednesday for help processing their unemployment claims.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission officials say they helped 500 people Wednesday and another 500 were given vouchers for Thursday’s event. Thursday is now at full capacity.

Page Nolen has been waiting weeks and weeks for her unemployment benefits, but she says she showed up too late to be helped Wednesday.

“I can’t go home. I don’t know what I’m gonna tell them, but I’m not going home without getting help today,” said Nolen.

She says when she arrived at 9 a.m., there were already hundreds in line ahead of her.

“It’s not fair and it’s not fun, but I’m here and I need my money, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t desperately need it,” said Gaelene Sanders, who was also in line.

“Are we upset? Everybody here is upset. We all have our own stories. I don’t want to lose my home,” said Ellis Gibson III, who was also in line.

OESC Interim Director Shelley Zumwalt says the huge crowds did not come at a surprise.

“That’s a lot of people, but that being said, I know that a lot of people need help,” said Zumwalt.

Zumwalt told KFOR earlier this week that around 60 employees would be working the event. She says hiring new employees isn’t as easy as it sounds, because the employees would need months and months of training.

“If hiring a hundred people would solve this problem, I would have done it on my first day, but this is a very specialized workforce,” said Zumwalt.

OESC is also still working with a 40-year-old claims processing system, a weakness Zumwalt says was exposed by the pandemic. Zumwalt says the system won’t be changing anytime soon.

“We need some help today. We need some help today, not help 500 people and then get 500 people passes for tomorrow,” said Darrell Scott, who is also still waiting on unemployment benefits.

“We just wanna live. We wanna take care of our children. We just want to live,” said Nolen.

OESC will hold another event at the Reed Center next week, Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with the ability to help 500 people per day.

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