Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

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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.

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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