Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Unemployment claims climb again, federal and state data show
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The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that 51,124 Oklahomans filed initial claims for unemployment during the week that ended April 4 — an increase of 3,380 from the week prior.
Nationally, the federal agency reported nearly 6.6 million Americans filed claims across the nation’s territories and 50 states, down 261,000 compared to the week before.
Oklahoma’s weekly data provided by the Labor Department is about 22,600 less than an unofficial estimate Oklahoma Employment Security Commission officials released Monday and about 12,700 less than what commission officials said their revised data on initial claims showed Thursday.
The commission's revised number Thursday lowered the state’s count for the week ending April 4 to 63,858 — still a difference of 12,734, or 24.9%, from what the federal agency reported.
State officials stressed the difference will work itself out, given the commission’s initial estimate was a preliminary, unofficial sum of claims taken online at unemployment.ok.gov and over the phone at 1-800-555-1554.
The Labor Department revises its data weekly.
A week ago, it reported that 44,970 Oklahomans filed initial claims for unemployment insurance compensation during the week that ended March 28. Thursday’s report increased that count to 47,744.
For the week that ended March 21, the Labor Department initially reported that 17,720 Oklahomans had filed initial claims for unemployment before revising it 23.7% higher the following week, to 21,926.
Preparing for the future
On Thursday, commission officials said they have added 100 claims agents to handle unemployed workers’ calls to the state agency and they expect to double that number next week as their call center capabilities continue to be expanded.
They also continue to work to transform the commission’s online filing system, both to make it easier to use and to handle claims from self-employed individuals seeking assistance through the federal CARES Act approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in late March.
It is nowhere near certain every working individual idled because of the coronavirus pandemic filed an initial claim, given many self-employed individuals may have waited until they were sure funds would be available.
Commission officials are urging all idled workers to file now, regardless of whether they work for a business or for themselves.
“The U.S. Department of Labor is in the process of finalizing its guidance on funds made available through the act for nontraditional workers,” said Robin Roberson, the commission’s executive director.
“We’re optimistic these funds will be available in the next week,” she said, adding that additional dollars provided through the measure will provide backdated compensation to March 30 both for traditional workers as well as those who are self-employed, work in the gig-economy or are independent contractors.
The agency is holding a virtual town hall meeting at 1 p.m. on Friday to answer questions about the program administered by the commission and the benefits it provides.
Officials said Thursday they are sending invites to 30,000 claimants directly.
Others who wish to participate may do so for free by visiting eventbrite.com/d/online/oesc/ and register to attend.