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Nation's unemployment rate at 10.2% as programs gear up to offer additional aid

At various times this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted local economies across Oklahoma. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]
At various times this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted local economies across Oklahoma. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

The number of Oklahomans receiving continued unemployment assistance during the first week of August fell by about 10%, compared to the previous week.

Data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor and Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) showed 117,141 residents getting continued assistance during the week ending Aug. 8, down from 129,971 the previous week.

However, initial claims for assistance increased.

Data showed 6,009 Oklahomans filed initial assistance claims during the week ending Aug. 15, up 322 from the week prior.

Officials estimate unemployment nationally fell from 10.6% to 10.2% this week.

Nationally, initial claims climbed by 135,000 week over week with nearly 1.1 million Americans seeking help through their state and territorial unemployment insurance benefits programs.

Continued claims fell across the nation by 636,000, week over week.

Officials said nearly 15.5 million Americans were being helped the week ending Aug. 1, while about 14.8 million were being helped the week ending Aug. 8.

More than 28 million Americans were getting assistance through all state and federal benefits programs when the week ending Aug. 1 closed, officials said.

In Oklahoma, officials said Thursday the OESC so far disbursed about $2.8 billion in weekly unemployment benefits, processing more than 800,000 claims along the way.

“I am proud of the work my team continues to do during this unprecedented time,” said OESC Interim Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt. “Make no mistake, these are huge numbers, doing the work of a normal year in the span of just a few months. Yes, the situation is ongoing, and we are continuing to innovate to meet the high unemployment demand.”

Backdated help coming

OESC officials said earlier this week they are beginning to set up a system they will use to provide unemployed Oklahomans with an extra $300 in benefits weekly that will be provided through a $44 billion appropriation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The federal government’s Lost Wages Assistance program was created by President Donald Trump through an executive order.

The president issued the order after talks broke down between the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and White House about how to keep aid flowing while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact residents, businesses and economies across the nation.

The biggest bump anyone in Oklahoma will see in a weekly check would be $300 (before taxes), as Oklahoma will provide its required match using dollars already included in an individual’s weekly payment from his or her state unemployment insurance account.

Any person with a weekly unemployment benefit of less than $100 wouldn’t qualify to receive the additional help, a technicality analysts have said would leave many low-wage earners out in the cold.

However, state officials have said they don’t expect that will be an issue for most people drawing assistance in Oklahoma.

Still, it will take time for the OESC to create the software it needs to be able to process claims to disburse that money, given that it comes from a different funding source with different eligibility requirements.

Earlier this week, they estimated it could take between four and five weeks before it can start issuing the additional payments.

The benefit will be retroactive to Aug. 1.

“We’re currently digging into the Lost Wages Assistance approval by FEMA to get that online as soon as possible,” Zumwalt said. “Our team is working tirelessly to prepare for implementation of this program, which is anticipated to go into effect in a compressed timeline. I’m proud of our state’s efforts to put money in the hands of Oklahomans who need it most.”

The president also issued an executive order that created a payroll tax deferral plan to assist working Americans.

But it remained unclear this week to what extent that program might be used.

Meanwhile, a CARES Act authorized extended benefits program for traditional workers who are unemployed that provides them with an additional 13 weeks of benefits continues.

Self-employed/gig-economy workers without jobs who are getting assistance through the CARES Act’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program are also covered through the end of the year by that program.

As for people who have pending unemployment claims involving weeks that ended on July 25 or earlier, state officials said this week they would still receive the additional $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation weekly benefit if those claims are ultimately paid.

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 ›