OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Although a lot is uncertain during the coronavirus pandemic, the closing of businesses has made the situation even harder for many Oklahomans.
Unemployment claims are up 865 percent in Oklahoma in March, and Gov. Kevin Stitt says state unemployment field offices are receiving 20,000 calls per day.
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.”
Due to the influx in the number of people trying to file online, officials say the website servers were crashing. OESC says they have rebooted the servers and hope that will fix the issue.
As for small business owners and the self employed, the OESC says it got information from the US Department of Labor on how they can file for traditional unemployment.
Oklahoma Rep. Mickey Dollens says that the OESC is working to “roll out the PUA program as soon as possible, but it is likely to take a few weeks to receive instructions from the federal government, and prepare the program.”
In the meantime, Rep. Dollens says self-employed individuals can file a regular claim even if they know they are going to be denied.
“If you are eligible for regular unemployment benefits (UI) or are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Insurance (PUA), you will also receive an additional $600/week from the federal government. You will not need to apply to receive the additional $600 weekly benefits once you are found eligible for regular UI or PUA. Also, unemployment benefits have been extended from a maximum of 26 weeks up to 39 weeks.”
Who is eligible for PUA? An individual who:
- Is not eligible for regular or extended benefits under State of Federal law.
- Is not eligible for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
- Is otherwise able to work and available for work within the meaning of applicable State law, except the individual is unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because:
o The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical diagnosis;
o A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
o The individual is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
o A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is un able to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work
o The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
o The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health provided to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
o The individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
o The individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
o The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or
o The individual meets any additional criteria established by the Secretary for unemployment assistance under this section; or
- Is self-employed, is seeking part-time employment, does not have sufficient work history, or otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment or extended benefits under State or Federal law or pandemic emergency unemployment compensation under Section 2107 and meets the regular, extended or PEUC benefits.
This does not include an individual who:
o Has the ability to telework with pay; or
o Who is receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits, regardless of whether the individual meets a qualification period described in the bullet points above.
Dollens says these are the steps for self-employed individuals:
1. File an online claim with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) at https://unemployment.state.ok.us/
2. When it asks for “employer,” please list your name.
3. If the site tells you, “self-employed do not qualify,” or “monetarily ineligible for lack of reported wages“ simply click “continue.” List the day you were laid off when it asks for “start date.” Leave “end date” blank.
4. You should receive an email and or letter saying your application was denied. This means the system hasn’t been updated yet. Save the email and letter (or at least take a picture) because you’ll need your ID number when the system is updated for 1099 claims.
5. OESC will announce when the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is ready to be administered. My guess is this will be 2-3 weeks from 4/5/2020.
6. Email a copy of two forms of identification (one must be a photo ID) to IDVerification@oesc.state.ok.us. Your claim will be effective the Sunday during the week in which the claim is filed. Next you must file weekly claims each week you wish to claim benefits (starting immediately). The weekly claim is a series of questions you must answer which will determine if you have met the eligibility requirements for the week you are filing so you can receive back pay.
7. Once the announcement is made then you will call the OESC Service Center to file for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance “PUA” claim. You may call the UI Service Center at the following numbers:
OKC area: 405-525-1500
Outside the OKC calling area: 1-800-555-1554
(8AM is the best time to call. Expect to be on hold for at least a couple hours.)