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A Glance At Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program In Oregon

Updated : August 4th, 2020

Oregon is one of the states worst affected by the measures taken to curb the Coronavirus pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, the unemployment rate in Oregon in May is 14.2%, and about 600,000 Oregonians have filed unemployment claims since March. With new jobless claims surging, the authorities are struggling to pay the benefits, especially to those who have applied for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program in Oregon.

Are you one among them struggling to collect your benefits, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)? Do not worry! This article will guide you through a few alternatives that can help you collect your benefits. But before that, let’s have a quick look at the PUA program. 

What Is The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program?

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provides benefits to otherwise ineligible self-employed, gig workers, independent contractors, freelancers, etc. It was designed in response to the Coronavirus pandemic under the CARES Act. 

Who Qualifies For PUA?

To qualify for the PUA, you must meet certain eligibility criteria. Some of them are listed below. 

  • You have lost your job as the direct result of the pandemic 
  • You must not be eligible for any other unemployment benefits
  • You have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus and are seeking medical care
  • Your family member has contracted the Coronavirus, and you are giving care
  • You can’t go to your workplace as a direct result of the pandemic public health care emergency
  • Your workplace is closed due to the Coronavirus
  • You have been scheduled to start a job but cannot start it due to the Coronavirus
  • The head of your family lost his/her life to the Coronavirus, and you are the major breadwinner

Why Are PAU Payments Delayed?

The PUA program was announced in March 2020. But the Oregon Employment Department took about a month to get started with the new program, i.e., the authorities began accepting applications only in late April. 

To add more to this, the Employment Department had neither personnel trained staff to process the claims nor a phone number for claimants to help them clear their queries or inquire about the status of their applications until mid-June.

During the period, thousands of PUA applicants flooded the already overloaded calls for traditional unemployment claims in a quest for updated information about their backlogged payments. The staff who were handling the phone lines for traditional unemployment claims weren’t trained on the new PUA benefits and hence couldn’t resolve queries about the program.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program in Oregon received more than 90,000 unemployment claims in the first 7 weeks after its announcement. But the Employment Department paid fewer than 3,000 claims a week on an average. This led to the enormous backlog of unprocessed claims, i.e., approximately 65,000 applications.

The Oregon Employment Department is largely working on the backlog of traditional unemployment claims. However, the Department has said that it won’t work through the backlogged 65,000 PUA claims till the second week of August. The Department has paid $90+ million PUA benefits till date.

How Does The Oregon Employment Department Calculate PUA Benefits?

The Oregon Employment Department follows the federal requirements while calculating the PUA benefits. That is, it uses gross wages to calculate the payment. While applying, you are required to provide details of your gross income. This helps the Department to determine how much they should pay you in a given week. 

This, in practice, means that if you earn income during a given week, your PUA payment will be affected even if your earnings go to the overhead costs of your business.

What Can You Do If Your Claim Is Not Resolved?

David Gerstenfeld, the head of Oregon Employment Department, recently announced that The Employment Department is set to begin the Focus PUA program to help Oregonians receive their PUA benefits faster. The program aims at improving technology, working speed, and proactive communication in processing the application. The Focus PUA also aims at shifting skilled employees who are currently handling regular claims to work on PUA payments.    

Gerstenfeld stated that “The department is working with private technology organizations to make the PUA claim process smooth and less manual.” He also added that “The authorities are also working on adding more phone lines. They recently added 138 new lines and are planning to add another 150 in the upcoming weeks.” He further added that “The Employment Department intends to hire at least 60 people who will be solely dedicated to the PUA work.” 

Gerstenfeld said, “The authorities are working with Google to develop an automated system that helps in filing PUA claims. The system is expected to be launched by early July. They have also launched a phone line dedicated to PUA: 503-370-5400 (local) or 833-410-1004 (toll-free). These numbers are separate from the main phone number, 1-877-FILE-4-UI, which processes only traditional Unemployment Insurance benefits. The Oregon Employment Department is also looking to host webinars to provide more information about the PUA program.”  

“The Department will post more information about its plan for processing PUA claims in a few days. But the Department cannot suggest an exact date for when the claims will be processed,” stated Gerstenfeld.

You can also consider calling your state senator and representative. Oregon has an online tool to help identify a lawmaker who represents you.

Can You Check The Status Of Your PUA Claim?

You can check the status of your PUA claim using the PIN and Social Security number through the online claims system

  • Choose “Status of Your Claim” 
  • Select Weekly Reports

If you don’t have a PIN, create one. The system will show the claim status once your PUA application is processed. 

Final Words

Do not be devastated if you haven’t received your PUA benefits yet. Call the state representatives and determine the status of your claim. Till then, keep looking for a job. 

For more details on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program in Oregon, visit the Employment Department website. 

 

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