Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

Oklahoma Capitol

Parties to two lawsuits over the state’s early end to enhanced federal unemployment benefits made their arguments on Wednesday before an Oklahoma Supreme Court referee.

One of those lawsuits was decided in Oklahoma County district court last week, when a judge ordered the state to reinstate the program. Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt wants the state supreme court to overturn that ruling.

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With the state ending federal enhanced unemployment benefits at the end of the week, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission is hosting another career fair in Tulsa on Wednesday.

The career fair will be at Tulsa Expo Square River Spirit Expo Center. Doors open to veterans at 8:30 a.m. and to the general public at 9 a.m. The event goes until 4 p.m., and applicants are welcome to bring paper résumés, digital copies or use computers on site.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission announced Thursday that it is expanding the eligibility for cash incentives to those who return to work.

Anyone working two part-time jobs totaling 32 or more hours per week will qualify for the $1,200 stipend, the OESC said.

The incentive announced in May by Gov. Kevin Stitt was to be available only to those working full-time for 32 or more hours weekly.

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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt confirmed Monday the state is pulling the plug on federal enhanced unemployment benefits on June 26.

Congress funded the additional $300 a week payments through early September by passing the American Rescue Plan. Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said state officials carefully considered their options.

Twitter / @oescnews

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump has signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package, ending days of drama over his refusal to accept the bipartisan deal that will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown.

The massive bill includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as an increase in food stamp benefits.

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.

Tens of thousands of Oklahomans receiving federal Lost Wage Assistance benefits through the state may get another payment.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt announced Thursday the agency has received guidance about distributing remaining Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars for the program, which expire at the end of the year.

"And the agency will be making one-time, $400 payments to over 120,000 Oklahomans," Zumwalt said.

The Lost Wages Assistance program sent out $300 payments Aug. 1 through Sept. 5.

Twitter / @OESCnews

This story was updated at 12:45 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 7, to include an additional statement from an OESC spokesperson received after initial publication.

The head of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission announced Friday an abrupt end to the state extended benefits program, a program introduced in July meant to help unemployed Oklahomans who have exhausted other means of relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

Oklahoma’s recovery from the recession triggered by the coronavirus pandemic may take some time.

Lynn Gray is Economic Research and Analysis Director for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. He said during a Tuesday commission meeting the state lost 145,000 jobs from February through April. From May through October, fewer than 68,000 were recovered.

"Now, again, I’m speaking simplistic. They’re not all job to job," Gray said.

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.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

Starting Sunday, Oklahoma will again require people filing new unemployment claims wait one week before receiving benefits and prove they are actively searching for work.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said that's because Gov. Kevin Stitt's emergency order waiving those provisions expires, but with the state's unemployment rate down to 5.3% in September, the time seems right to again require those.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

State lawmakers during an interim study on Tuesday dug into reported problems with Conduent, the company processing Oklahomans’ unemployment benefits.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has complained Conduent is not giving them detailed enough information on accounts it flags for potential fraud to effectively deal with it. General Manager Paul Gates said federal privacy regulations prevent Conduent from just handing over all the information they have on an account.

Oklahoma Jobless Claims Decline

Sep 11, 2020
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Claims for unemployment benefits in Oklahoma are declining after reaching record levels during the coronavirus pandemic, the state Employment Security Commission reported Thursday.

First-time weekly claims for the week ending Sept. 5 totaled of 5,241, and continuing claims numbered 103,903, down from 6,019 initial claims and 119,571 continuing claims from a week earlier, according to the commission.

Zumwalt Named Director of Oklahoma Unemployment Agency

Sep 1, 2020
OESC

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission on Tuesday announced that interim director Shelley Zumwalt has been named executive director of the agency.

The former budget analyst and communications director at the Office of Management and Enterprise Services had been named the commission’s interim director in May after Robin Roberson’s resignation.

The agency said in a news release that since Zumwalt became interim director the number of pending unemployment claims has been reduced from more than 120,000 to between 5,000 and 10,000.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

Gov. Kevin Stitt has asked the federal government to provide an additional $300 in unemployment benefits for out-of-work Oklahomans.

The governor’s office submitted a grant application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If approved, Stitt said FEMA will fund the $300 per week benefit, and Oklahoma will fulfill the 25% state match through existing unemployment benefits.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

With Republicans and Democrats in a stalemate, the U.S. Senate left until Monday without extending federal unemployment benefits that expire Friday.

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said renewing $600 a week on top of what states offer was too much. Lankford told NPR’s David Greene on "Morning Edition" he supported the GOP plan for $200 in weekly payments through September.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The state unemployment agency will hold two more days of in-person claim processing events in Tulsa next week.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reached capacity for this week’s event at Expo Square before 6:30 Wednesday morning — more than 800 slots over two days filled before the doors even opened.

Jason Ward and Michelle Boyce got in line at 4 a.m. Wednesday and snagged the 135th spot out of 400 initially on offer for the day. Boyce was put on leave from her job at a casino in March because of her medical risk for serious COVID complications.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported it has cleared 71% of the backlogged claims in place when its new leader took over a week ago.

OESC Interim Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said that equates to 180,000 weeks of claims that have been paid out. 

"Which is kind of a weird way to say it, right? But what that means is there was people that were waiting on eight weeks, 10 weeks, you know, multiple weeks of pay, and we processed all of those at the same time so that we could get them those funds that they so desperately need," Zumwalt said.

Tim Mossholder

Job losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn may be greater than previously thought.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Chief Economist Lynn Gray said the state unemployment rate for April was officially 13.7% but should be about 17% because some COVID-related job losses were classified differently by the U.S. Department of Labor until last month.

Job losses are not affecting all groups of Oklahomans equally, either. Gray said women in the state are out of work at a higher rate than men are.

The interim head of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Monday they’re making good progress getting through a backlog of claims.

The goal was to get through 25% of them by last Friday after the Office of Management and Enterprise Services took over processing and other tasks. OESC Interim Director Shelley Zumwalt said they’ve exceeded that goal.

"We processed roughly 29% of the claims backlog, which includes both PUA and regular unemployment benefits, and that percentage is likely a low estimate," Zumwalt said.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Robin Roberson resigned Friday hours after OESC handed over unemployment claim processing and other tasks to the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

Roberson's resignation was first reported by The Oklahoman. Roberson was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after Gov. Kevin Stitt picked her to lead OESC and put off a double mastectomy after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

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Oklahoma may be among the targets of a Nigerian crime ring perpetrating 'massive' unemployment fraud against U.S. state programs.