Oklahomans show up for fourth day of unemployment claim filing event

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MIDWEST CITY, Okla. (KFOR) – For a fourth day in two weeks, Oklahomans headed to a Midwest City convention center to get help filing for unemployment – an issue many have struggled with since the start of the pandemic.

On average, around 500 to 575 have received help every day of this multi-day event put on by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

The OESC is finding the issues and working to fix them.

Tuesday was another busy day at the Reed Center, fortunately, it didn’t see as long of lines as previously seen as the system becomes more efficient – which is good news because so many people so desperately need help.

“I’ve lost my car and fixing to have to find another place to live,” said Karan Pedersen. “My landlord’s tired of waiting.”

Pedersen worked at a Waffle House for 13 years before being laid off in March due to the pandemic.

She’s been in desperate need of help ever since.

“Friends and by the hair of my chinny chin chin it’s been really hard,” she said.

So far, an estimated 1,700 Oklahomans like her have received help at the event.

A number system on passes helped reduce the long lines often formed overnight.

Also, the OESC is fine-tuning solutions to issues they’re finding like fraud, language barriers, and difficulty answering questions.

“Usually it’s not complete denials, said OESC interim director Shelley Zumwalt. “There’s people getting hung up on a question, not agreement from the information we get from OTC and their wages.”

The problems don’t stop there.

“We’ve got three months of going through, ‘I’ll call you back, I’ll call you back,’ or hanging up or can’t call in to check in or anything,” said Debra Franks, who was there to help her granddaughter.

Officials with the OESC hope issues with the phones will be alleviated by the number of people helped at this event.

“By freeing up a little bit of that phone time we can help the people that aren’t able to make it here in person,” Zumwalt said.

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma was also on hand Tuesday to help those who haven’t had to navigate these troubled waters before.

“Right now, it’s a lot more than normal,” said Cathy Nestlen with the RFBO. “We don’t see it really diminishing any time soon, not only with the pandemic but we also have a sluggish oil and gas industry that really impacts our state as well so it’s kind of a one-two punch for people.”

None of the Oklahomans in need are giving up, even after months without a paycheck.

“I do have a great hope,” said Herbert Nguyen who was in line Tuesday.

This event will continue Wednesday and Thursday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with many folks already picking up their passes for those events on Tuesday.

A similar event will take place next week in Tulsa.

The OESC is still ironing out the details on that.

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