Dozens of citizens testified to Oregon legislators about not receiving unemployment benefits and the impact on their lives Thursday, Sept. 3, concluding three days of hearings about the state employment department’s failures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, suggested the Oregon Employment Department be dismantled and rebuilt into a more adaptable structure, saying that the current structure was responsible for one of the largest disasters in government history.
As reported by The Register-Guard, acting OED Director David Gerstenfeld maintained that the failures were due to a number of issues the department faced, including staff turnover, a lack of modern computers, employees testing positive for the virus, understaffing and an inadequate phone system.
One way OED is planning to counteract these failures and distribute money is through the Lost Wages Assistance program, which Oregon received approval for from Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday, Sept. 4. The Lost Wages Assistance program would distribute $300 weekly in late September. Gerstenfeld said they have money to pay these benefits for five weeks under this program.
OED also plans to distribute waiting week payments by late November and Senate Bill 1701 by mid-December.
According to Gerstenfeld, the employment department has received a total of 556,600 claims for regular unemployment and 100,000 claims for the self-employed since March and has so far distributed $4.1 billion.
The country’s economy seems to be bouncing back – the U.S. unemployment rate was down to 8.4% in August, 1.8% lower than the July rate. Oregon’s unemployment rate for July was 10.4%, and August numbers will be released on Sept. 15.
Despite the unemployment rate decreasing, the economy has thus far recovered barely half of the 22 million jobs lost due to the pandemic. The state’s labor department announced Friday that employers added 1.4 million jobs last month, down from the 1.7 million added in July.
Small-business hiring continues to appear weak, according to economic data. Multiple industries, specifically hotels, restaurants, airlines, and entertainment businesses are struggling to bounce back as COVID-19 case number keep growing.
Hundreds of thousands are still out of jobs and receiving unemployment continues to prove difficult. 29 million Americans are currently receiving state unemployment aid, but their total benefits have shrunk by more than half, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The Trump administration will be distributing $300 a week to unemployed citizens under a new program that states can adopt, but there are new rules and requirements that will exclude 850,000 Americans from these benefits.
The Associated Press also highlighted how financial strain is impacting citizens’ mental health – a survey by the medical journal JAMA Network Open recently revealed that half of U.S. adults “reported at least some signs of depression, such as hopelessness, feelings of failure, or an inability to derive pleasure from daily activities.”
AP reported, “Most economists say a meaningful economic recovery will likely be impossible until the coronavirus is brought under control, most likely from the widespread use of a vaccine.”
By Cara Nixon