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Many continue to receive unemployment assistance, but changes to the amount paid are on the horizon

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission employees work to process claims during the first day of special filing event held in Midwest City earlier this month. The agency is holding similar events this week in Tulsa. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma Employment Security Commission employees work to process claims during the first day of special filing event held in Midwest City earlier this month. The agency is holding similar events this week in Tulsa. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

More than 120,000 Oklahomans continued to receive unemployment assistance during the first week of July, while changes to payment amounts loom at the end of the month.

The U.S. Labor Department data reported 122,452 continuing insured unemployment claims within the state for the week ending July 4, a decrease of only about 8,500 from the week prior.

Oklahoma’s system continues to pick up new claims as well, though at a much slower rate than what previously was seen following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Data shows 8,621 people filed initial claims for assistance during the week ending July 11, down from 9,423 initial assistance claims the previous week.

Nationally, about 17.3 million Americans received continued assistance during the week ending July 4 from state/territorial unemployment compensation programs.

The four-week moving average for continued assistance claims was about 18.3 million. That number peaked the first week of May, when 25 million Americans were drawing assistance.

In Oklahoma, the number of continued assistance claims peaked in mid-June at about 180,000.

The U.S. Labor Department estimated Thursday that unemployment nationally was 11.9% for the week ending July 4.

Out of the woods?

As the pandemic continues to create trouble spots across much of the nation, it is too soon to declare the economy has started a meaningful recovery, an economist observed Thursday.

Robert C. Dauffenbach, director of the Center for Economic and Management Research at the University of Oklahoma's Price College of Business, said he will be closely watching data the next several weeks as people across the country are forced into deciding whether continuing to use the program is worth the hassle.

While the CARES Act is allowing recipients to stay in the program longer than normal (an additional 13 weeks beyond the 26 normally allowed), a key piece of aid that boosts the weekly amount recipients receive ends later this month.

Technically, the last filing week the CARES Act-provided Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program (which provides claimants an extra $600 a week) will be paid is the one ending July 25.

Unless Congress intervenes, the last check reflecting that enhanced benefit that recipients will get will arrive the following week.

Dauffenbach said dropping numbers of continuing claims are indicative that the nation is indeed reopening its economy.

But, he said the average number of continuing claims is still about three times what it was during the Great Recession in 2008-2009, and he added that future economic shutdowns that could be required to slow the virus’ renewed spread could eliminate recent improvements in that statistic.

“There is just a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds,” he said.

Extended benefits

Traditionally employed Oklahomans who have been idled because of COVID-19 are receiving regular unemployment insurance benefits calculated based upon their wage history. While benefits under that program normally would be exhausted after 26 weeks, the CARES Act authorizes states to extend those benefits for an additional 13 weeks.

In most cases, officials said this week that initially determined monetary benefits would continue to be paid, with most claimants only needing to continue to file additional weekly claims.

However, officials said an individual’s specific circumstances (such as returning to work on a limited basis) could require an adjustment on what’s paid.

Self-employed and gig economy Oklahomans who were idled because of COVID-19 are getting assistance through the CARES Act created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Benefit rates are determined based on documented proof of earnings those applicants provide and are capped at 39 weeks.

Benefits under both are designed to carry long-term unemployed claimants through the end of 2020.

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 ›