Oklahomans struggle to file for unemployment amid coronavirus pandemic

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As if staying at home wasn’t tough enough, many Oklahomans have lost their jobs and are now trying to file for unemployment. However, many are not having a lot of success.

“I’ve had one of two gigs that I have had cancel in the last 11 years worked, so having 19 is super freaky. It took my breath away,” said Blake Overstreet.

Overstreet’s DJ business was shut down in early March and he doesn’t have another gig scheduled until September.

Overstreet says he has looked to get another job but is starting the process of filing for unemployment.

“I have no shame. I have children. I want to make sure they have something no matter what,” said Overstreet.

He is not alone.

Unemployment claims are up 865 percent in Oklahoma in March.

With state employment field offices closed to stop the spread of COVID-19, tons of people are calling to file. From the looks of our KFOR email inbox, a lot of people are not getting through to the appropriate place.

“I’m understanding it’s a tough system for people to get through right now,”said Sen. Julia Kirt.

The Democrat from Oklahoma City says she is getting a ton of calls from people in her district who are struggling to file.

“They already didn’t have the staff they need I don’t think,” said Kirt

Less manpower to help those in need. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission is encouraging first-time filers to go online instead of calling.

“It isn’t necessary to call to file an unemployment claim,” said Executive Director Robin Roberson. “The agency’s website has information to answer every question. Really, everything can be done online. Our phones lines are so clogged that most callers are receiving a busy signal and are unable to reach us.”

Sen. Kirt hopes Oklahomans don’t become frustrated and give up.

Previously, the most an Oklahoman could get was $535 a week but now the extra $600 in the federal unemployment plan will help people get their bills paid.

“They are hoping that will be a quick infusion of money for people facing a lot of hardships.” said Kirt.

As for small business owners and the self employed like DJ Blake, the OESC says they did get information on Tuesday from the US Department of Labor on how they can file for traditional unemployment.

Officials say the process is still under review.

Sen. Kirt says Small Business Emergency Loans and Payroll Protection Plans are already up and running.

“It can cover the cost of their salary plus their rent and so that would help people a lot more than just doing an unemployment claim. So if you are an independent contractor or self employed, check that first,” said Kirt.

The OESC declined to be interview but they did send us links they say will help people trying to file.

“I want to assure recently laid-off Oklahomans that help is on the way,” Roberson said in a news release. “We ask that claimants be patient as we work through the details of recent changes in federal law designed to benefit our residents.”

The governor’s office sent us the following statement:

“The governor’s office has been working in close coordination with OESC to ensure they have the resources and manpower needed to respond to the growing number of claims for unemployment. Earlier this month, the governor waived the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits to allow Oklahomans to access the help they need more quickly. The governor’s team has also been working to leverage resources across state agencies to address technology needs OESC may have, by providing a development team to ensure the agency’s systems are able to stay up and running during the uptake in web and phone traffic, and connect them with more state employees to help fill in gaps as needed. Also, as a side note- The most claims that the OESC ever received in one week was 9,000 in 1991. In comparison, last week the OESC received almost five times that number. These are unprecedented numbers that the team at OESC is working to effectively and quickly process and respond to.”

For claimants, visit this site.

If you are an employer, click here.

Small business owners should visit this site.

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