Columbia County residents and those Oregonians still waiting for their unemployment claims to be resolved could soon receive a $500 emergency relief check from the state, according to Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek.
The financial relief follows weeks of waiting for thousands of jobless Oregonians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kotek issued the following details about the emergency relief in her weekly newsletter.
"Too many Oregonians are still waiting to get their first unemployment check. The delays at the Oregon Employment Department are the result of the historically high number of claims filed since the start of the pandemic, the requirements of new benefits designed by the federal government, and the constraints of an inflexible legacy computer system.
My office hears from people every day who are desperate for help and need their claims resolved.
Today, Senate President Peter Courtney and I proposed the immediate distribution of emergency relief checks of $500 per person for Oregonians who have applied for unemployment benefits and have not yet received their benefits from the Oregon Employment Department.
We propose allocating $35 million in federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars to get $500 payments to the nearly 70,000 Oregonians who are still waiting for their unemployment benefits. The Legislative Emergency Board will meet next Tuesday, July 14, to consider this proposal, as well as other critical funding for Oregonians impacted by the pandemic.
These one-time payments would not be linked to future unemployment benefits. Individuals who have filed for, but not yet received, benefits from either the regular Unemployment Insurance program or the Pandemic Assistance Unemployment program would be eligible.
I know that people need help now. While the Oregon Employment Department works on processing all existing claims, this action can help frustrated Oregonians get some direct cash assistance as soon as possible. More information about the Emergency Board’s actions will be available soon, and I’ll post information about how to access these checks as soon as possible.
This will not solve all the problems facing too many Oregonians, and I’ll absolutely not be satisfied until every eligible person has received the benefits they are owed. But, I hope these emergency checks will provide some relief while the agency continues to work through its backlog."
The Chief reported earlier that State Rep. Brad Witt had asked the Oregon Secretary of State to audit the Oregon Employment Department following the long delays for the jobless claims.
In his letter the Secretary of State Bev Clarno, Witt wrote, "Unemployment insurance was designed as a safety net for Oregonians needing assistance during difficult times. Sadly, our safety net has failed at a time of unprecedented need and desperation by tens of thousands of Oregonians. In my House District alone there are far too many claimants who are yet to receive payments or who have had their payments halted, only to be told to “go to the back of the line” and file another claim."
In his weekly Chief Guest Column this week, Witt called the Oregon Employment Department's lack of immediate attention for the thousands of jobless claims, an "epic failure to provide timely, regular and consistent unemployment and COVID-19 insurance payments to Oregonians."
Follow this developing story here online and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.