State Unemployment Agency Pulls the Plug on Additional $400 Payments

Dec 16, 2020

OESC Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt
Credit Twitter / @OESCnews

Citing conflicting federal guidance, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reversed course Wednesday on $400 payments to around 120,000 Oklahomans announced last week.

OESC Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said last week she was told the agency could do that with remaining funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Lost Wages Assistance program. Now, however, Zumwalt says with lawmakers closing in on a new coronavirus relief package that could include another round of enhanced unemployment benefits, things have changed.

"We have received guidance that if we were to pay out these funds and legislation was passed, we could potentially put claimants in an overpayment situation and have to recall those funds. My fear is, if this happened, we could potentially put claimants at risk for being able to receive these new federal benefits," Zumwalt said in a video posted to Twitter.

OESC planned to distribute payments starting Wednesday.

"I’m honestly heartbroken, and you have my — I will continue to fight for you guys every single day, and I am so very sorry that this is the outcome. This is not what we had planned, and, frankly, we don’t agree with it. But at this point, putting claimants at risk is not something that I can do," Zumwalt said.

But Shahar Ziv with Forbes reported shortly before Zumwalt’s announcement on Wednesday that FEMA guidelines explicitly prohibit using the lost wage program funds past their original six-week allotment in late summer and that the agency did not authorize additional payments for Oklahoma.

The report describes early guidance about the program as confusing but says clarification was issued after several weeks.