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Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Initial unemployment claims decline for third week in a row

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The numbers of Oklahomans who filed initial claims for unemployment insurance compensation last week fell slightly, compared to the week before.

Numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported 32,127 Oklahomans filed new claims on the system during the week ending May 23, compared to an adjusted count of 33,340 who filed new claims the week ending May 16.

It shows initial claims counts have fallen in Oklahoma for each of the past three reporting periods. Data provided Thursday by the state agency shows more than 484,000 initial claims for compensation have been filed with the agency since the week that ended Feb. 29.

At the end of this week, unadjusted data kept by the Labor Department showed Oklahoma was making continued claim payments to 135,504 state residents the week that ended May 16. The previous week, 135,229 were getting continued payments.

OESC officials said the continuing payment count includes more than 62,000 claims filed by applicants seeking pandemic unemployment assistance for self-employed and gig workers.

Before qualifying for that assistance at however, the self-employed and gig workers must apply and receive a denial for traditional unemployment assistance.

The continuing claims number also includes 4,000 claims from unemployed workers who have exhausted their traditional unemployment benefits.

OESC stated it has paid out more than $1 billion in regular state and federal benefits, so far.

Of that, more than $400,000,000 has been paid out in weekly regular and pandemic unemployment assistance claims to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation. Federal unemployment assistance benefits, the extra $600 paid each week on top of the regular compensation, represented the remainder.

Nationally, a seasonally adjusted count of about 2.1 million Americans filed initial claims for unemployment insurance compensation during the week that ended May 23, down about 300,000 from the week before.

More than 21 million Americans were drawing unemployment benefits the previous week, down nearly 4 million from the week before.

In Oklahoma

The OESC, now under the leadership of interim CEO Shelley Zumwalt, did not disclose the number of pending claims that still haven’t been resolved this week.

That exclusion is notable, given that the agency reported a week ago there were 45,000 such claims.

Likely, a significant number of legitimately filed claims that need resolution continue to exist in the state’s system, causing consternation among unemployed applicants who continue to seek help.

“The number of Oklahomans struggling to make ends meet in the face of our state’s staggering job loss is astounding,” Zumwalt stated Thursday.

“My mission is to resolve all pending claims without delay to make sure people out of work receive the relief they’ve been expecting.”

Beyond that, other claimants have stated they are getting frustrated by problems they have encountered in obtaining financial assistance, even after claims are approved.

Some applicants have been forced to wait weeks to receive a debit card they need to establish a way to move the aid from that platform into their bank accounts.

Others have received their cards, only to discover that associated information that had been incorrectly entered into the card issuer's system that prevented them from activating their accounts.

They add that repeated attempts to reach someone at Conduent, the contractor that handles the state’s debit card service, have been unsuccessful.

One applicant who emailed The Oklahoman said three out of three employees at his hair salon have encountered difficulties they hadn’t been able to get adequately addressed, either with their claims or debit cards.

The counts of approved claims and applicants who have been able to access the assistance “are two different numbers,” the man wrote.

Friday morning, a spokesman for Conduent said the company is working with the state to identify and correct information conflicts that are preventing some card users from activating their accounts and said he expects that responsiveness to callers in need will improve as call volumes decline.

“We are working closely with the state of Oklahoma to fulfill the unprecedented increase in disbursement of unemployment benefits," said Neil Franz, Conduent's director of government and transportation external communications. "We continue to deliver our portion of the fulfillment as rapidly as possible, and we are working cooperatively with the state and other vendors to make sure that Oklahomans get their benefits as quickly as possible.”

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 ›