Oklahoma Raising Unemployment Taxes for 2021

Oct 26, 2020

Oklahomans trying to apply for unemployment benefits accept numbers to come back the next day at an in-person claim event hosted by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission at the Tulsa fairgrounds in July.
Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

Oklahoma employers will be paying more in unemployment taxes next year.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission is raising the rate from a range of 0.01 to 5.5% to a range of 0.03 to 7.5%. OESC Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt told lawmakers during an interim study last week higher rates may not be enough on their own to keep the state’s unemployment trust fund solvent.

"The fund is predicted to receive $550 million to $600 million from employer fees in calendar year 2021. The fund has paid out this amount many, many times when we haven’t been experiencing a pandemic, and this projection is if the economy is fair to good," Zumwalt said.

Zumwalt said three-fourths of employers will pay the lowest unemployment tax rate.

The unemployment trust fund’s balance is currently around $130 million. That’s after receiving $100 million in federal coronavirus funding. If the fund’s balance drops to $25 million or less, employers are automatically hit with a 33% surcharge on top of their regular unemployment tax.

"There’s a possibility we could still hit it if we don’t take extraordinary measures to make sure we don’t, like adding funding to it. The fund has done what it needs to do, but this is not something that we are definitely – you know, we’re doing fine and the fund is solvent and we don’t have to worry about it. This is a closely monitored situation," Zumwalt said.

If the fund's balance drops too low, Oklahoma must accept a federal loan to cover its unemployment obligations. Employers would be on the hook for repaying that.