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The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission continues to work through issues, director says

The interim director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Monday the agency continues to make progress on dealing with claims that have been backlogged in its system for a month or more.

Shelley Zumwalt said the agency was able to clear that backlog over the weekend, in some cases enabling the agency to make massive payouts to claimants who had been seeking help since mid-March.

But that doesn’t mean the agency has no pending claims that need resolved.

As pending claims are resolved, others appear.

Plus, other long-delayed claims have fallen into a pending status again because they were flagged for a different issue (a newly-flagged wrong answer to a question submitted by a claimant, or, perhaps a challenge from an employer on whether or not a claim should be paid).

“There are people who have been caught up by issues that we have touched multiple times,” she observed.

On Monday, Zumwalt promised the agency plans a news conference Wednesday to provide more specifics about the workload it continues to face. But Wednesday morning, officials postponed that, stating they were aiming to reschedule it for the following day.

“Issues surrounding the processing of payments are still present and there are still people who have only received a portion of their weeks of benefits or are waiting on issues to be resolved with their claims,” she said, adding she wanted to provide an update so that people who are still waiting on resolutions don’t conclude their claims were denied or simply are lost in the agency’s system.

“We still have a lot of work to do, and I am committed to making sure that work gets done.”

Zumwalt said in a perfect world, the agency could stay caught up with handling the volume of claims needing to be resolved.

However, the agency is processing those claims using 40-year-old software that continues to have some significant issues.

Sometimes, fixes for one issue are creating problems elsewhere.

“Just working with this 40-year-old mainframe, every time we fix something by integrating newer software, it feels like we break glass in another place,” she said.

“We are learning and getting smarter, don’t get me wrong,” Zumwalt said on Monday, “but we had problems over the weekend.”

Those included the system telling applicants on some claims that a payment would “not be made at this time” when they filed.

Other claimants, meanwhile, might have seen an error message as they attempted to file their weekly claim for pandemic unemployment assistance.

Zumwalt said commission staff continues to work day and night to resolve the system’s processing difficulties.

“Having issues like this is not ideal, but I want the public to have information so they can plan accordingly,” she said Monday.

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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 ›