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Many Unemployment Delays Caused By Applicant Error, Stitt Administration Official Says

File Photo / Matt Trotter
File photo of a speech by Okla. Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Responding to complaints from Oklahomans across the state who say they're struggling to receive unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic, a state cabinet secretary said Tuesday that many issues and delays are being caused by the applicants themselves.

"The biggest issue that we've seen that's causing people to get - either they get paid one week and then it stalls, or they stall completely, are inconsistencies or incomplete information," said David Ostrowe, Governor Kevin Stitt's Secretary of Digital Transformation and Administration. 

"Ninety percent of the ones that I've come across that have been delayed are incomplete, so my first recommendation is: go in and make sure you've answered all the questions," he said.

Ostrowe took questions during a telephone town hall hosted by U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) on Tuesday. 

Ostrowe, who is a recovered COVID-19 patient himself, said the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission is doing the best they can given a challenging and unprecedented situation.

"As bad as things have been, where people are frustrated, and my heart goes out to people who have had delays, Oklahoma is faring better than most other states," Ostrowe said.

Ostrowe said OESC has so far processed close to $1 billion in claims, and that employees are working around the clock.

"One of the charges I've heard from folks is, 'Every time I go in, the website changes.' Yeah, because we're working all night," Ostrowe said.

Ostrowe also said that rampant fraudulent claims by malevolent actors abroad, possibly related to the 2017 Equifax credit agency breach, have made the agency's job more difficult. 

Still, Ostrowe said that Oklahomans should know that if another pandemic hits after this one, OESC will be ready next time.

"For anybody that's frustrated out there on the unemployment process," Ostrowe said, "I promise this will never happen again."

Protestors at the Capitol on Monday said the unemployment system is maddeningly broken, with some Oklahomans saying they can't get through to OESC via phone or email, and that they've waited weeks or months without receiving payments while unemployed due to the pandemic.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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