The Oregon Department of Employment on Tuesday launched a new campaign focused on clearing a backlog of 38,000 unemployment claims.
“Project Focus 100” promises to use “four successful strategies” to process 100% of the backed-up claims “as quickly as possible.
More than 400,000 Oregonians have filed unemployment claims since the pandemic took hold on the country in March; 20% of Oregon’s labor force is out of work.
The strategies, according to the Employment Department, are:
- Continue surge hiring. The department has made good progress getting the staff we need to process claims quickly, increasing by six times the number of people processing claims than were in place before COVID-19 closures began. We continue hiring and training new employees to ensure every Oregonian gets the benefits they’re owed in a timely fashion.
- Further focus our experienced professionals on the oldest and most complex claims. For two weeks, from May 29 to June 12, we will increase our outbound calls to resolve claims for those that have been waiting the longest. To do this, our most experienced employees will take time away from answering the phones. We will also temporarily reassign job center employees to take incoming calls to help resolve questions, in all languages, relating to:
- Address/Phone number changes
- Looking up customer ID (CID) numbers
- Re-setting PIN numbers
- Issues with claiming a week of benefits online, including taking weekly certifications
- Filing a new claim or processing an internet initial claim (except those with military, federal, or out-of-state wages)
- Re-starting a claim
- Checking the status of a claim (if unable to use the online claim system)
- Increase proactive contact and communication. We’re piloting new ways of contacting Oregonians to let them know where their claims are in the system and to solve problems. We now have pre-recorded phone messages and emails will confirm that we’ve received your PUA claim. We’re also working to add a customer service chat bot to our website.
- Use technology to close gaps and improve service. We have identified strategies that move claims out of processing traps that can hang them up. That has already moved thousands of claims through processing. We will continue using these strategies to speed up processing and get Oregonians whose claims have been stuck the benefits they’re owed.
The Oregon Employment Department said last week it is now ready to begin processing extended benefits authorized by Congress in March. Workers who had exhausted the standard 26 weeks of benefits can now apply for a 13-week extension – retroactive to March 29.
Oregon’s unemployment rate rose to 14.2% in April, the highest point on record. It had been at a historic low of just 3.5% in March, before the coronavirus outbreak hit Oregon.
Forecasters expect the unemployment rate will top 20% within the next few months and then rebound.