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Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Agency that handles unemployment insurance updates efforts

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The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission is ramping up efforts to add customer service assistants who can handle more-complex issues related to its unemployment insurance program.

This week, the agency stated it streamlined the process it uses to train “Tier 2” claims service agents from a period of weeks to a period of hours.

Tier 2 agents, officials said, are trained to explain eligibility requirements, request specific documentation, place outgoing calls to provide claimant assistance and address concerns from employers who might be protesting claims for qualifying decisions to terminate employment.

“Training of Tier 2 claims service agents typically takes six weeks,” said OESC Executive Director Robin Roberson. “We’ve reduced that training down to a few hours to increase our ability to respond to the tremendous influx of wage claims related to COVID-19 and the energy crisis.”

Officials said the commission added 26 Tier 2 agents Thursday, with 940 active Tier 1 agents working the same day.

During the first three hours of the agency’s operations that day, more than 3,100 calls were answered out of 3,200 calls received, with the average wait time to speak to a claim specialist dropping to 31 seconds.

Officials said the longest wait time was less than 36 minutes, compared to more than seven hours a week earlier.

They also said the commission hopes to have 200 Tier 2 agents available to respond to customer issues at the start of the coming week.

Besides adding service agents, the commission also updated its procedures and website to assist Oklahomans applying for unemployment assistance and to process claims.

The agency is one of 26 states already paying the additional $600 weekly benefit amount to unemployment recipients that was authorized and funded by the CARES Act, something that will continue to be paid to unemployed Oklahomans weekly through July 25.

The agency is also providing 13 weeks of expanded benefits to individuals whose regular unemployment benefits have expired or are set to expire.

It hopes to begin making unemployment payments to self-employed workers idled by the coronavirus soon.

Filing online at oesc.ok.gov remains the quickest way to process an unemployment insurance claim, officials said.

“We have 11 retirees who have come back to help us get these claims processed,” Roberson said. “Along with many volunteers from other agencies, we are making strides daily to improve the claims process.”

Since the energy bust and coronavirus pandemic appeared, officials said the commission has helped nearly 200,000 Oklahomans who found themselves out of work and looking for help, Roberson observed.

“We look forward to being able to offer assistance to claimants who don’t qualify for regular unemployment assistance in the very near future,” Roberson said.

Jack Money

Jack Money has worked for The Oklahoman for more than 20 years. During that time, he has worked for the paper’s city, state, metro and business news desks, including serving for a while as an assistant city editor. Money has won state and regional... Read more ›

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