Those left unemployed by Oregon’s response to the coronavirus have suffered cruelly and needlessly at the hands of the bureaucracy.
In an attempt to reduce the spread of the disease and keep it from overwhelming hospitals, on March 23 Gov. Kate Brown imposed a statewide order that closed a host of businesses and severely restricted others.
In a ripple effect, vendors that otherwise could lawfully operate were forced to close because their customers were no longer in business, or were no longer employed and able to afford their service.
Many of the businesses impacted by Brown’s orders are in rural Oregon. We have heard from many of our advertisers who have been forced lay off employees, and in some cases have had to suspend operations altogether.
In flattening the rate of infection, these actions also flattened the economy. Since Brown first issued her order, more than 400,000 Oregonians have lost their jobs.
Thankfully, they were able to apply for standard state unemployment and the extra $600 a week provided by Congress. Unfortunately, the Employment Department — the state agency charged with managing unemployment benefits — was completely unprepared for the collapse of the economy and the overwhelming need for its services.
Oregonians have not been able to get their claims processed. The unemployed report calling the department dozens of times each day and getting nothing but a busy signal. Those few who manage to get through to the department by phone face a two- to three-hour wait. Less than half those who are put on hold actually get to talk with someone.
An email system was quickly overwhelmed and was discontinued. There are no walk-in locations.
Last week we learned that department was working through the backlog and had processed 90% of the claims, but that half of those left jobless have yet to see a penny of the unemployment benefits that they are due.
There is no doubt that the Employment Department was quickly overwhelmed by the immediate crush of thousands upon thousands filing for unemployment benefits. In the first week after Brown issued her “stay home” order, 76,500 Oregonians filed new unemployment claims.
It’s also true the department has been hampered by an outdated computer system — a system that has not been fixed despite an $85 million grant from the federal government lying unused for 10 years. And, there is the considerable red tape that governs the process that can’t be set aside.
On Sunday Brown fired Kay Erickson, who has managed the department since 2016. In a statement she said the delays are unacceptable.
It is unfortunate that Brown hasn’t taken more responsibility for her role in the debacle. She turned off the economy but her government wasn’t prepared for the consequences. Were they even considered?
We agree, the delays are unacceptable. But that admission does nothing for people waiting weeks for payment.
Despite promises of action Oregonians will likely just have to wait for the department to muddle through the process — no matter how long it takes.