Unemployment

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For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer than 4,000 Oklahomans filed new jobless claims last week.

For the week ending Oct. 31, 3,858 people filed initial claims, a 22% drop from the previous week.

First-time jobless claims in Oklahoma are still more than double what they were prior to the pandemic, but 21 states saw their number of new claims go up last week.

The number of Oklahomans receiving continuing unemployment benefits last week also dropped, declining a little more than 9,000 to 50,115.

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.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Unemployment issues aside, the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for thousands of Oklahomans.

People have lost jobs that supported their families and are unable to find anything that pays more than half their former salary. Others are picking up as many extra jobs as they can, no matter the risk of infection, to make up for a partner’s pay cut. Some are struggling with the mental health impacts and languishing on suicide watches for weeks.

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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.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved Oklahoma for a $300 weekly unemployment benefit to people left jobless because of the coronavirus.

FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor says Oklahoma becomes the ninth state to be approved for the program announced earlier this month by President Donald Trump.

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Monday that he had applied for inclusion into the program for the unemployed who are receiving at least $100 in state unemployment benefits.

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.

Century Foundation

An analysis of federal Department of Labor statistics found that, under a coronavirus relief plan proposed by Senate Republicans, Oklahomans would see the steepest average cut – 57% – in combined state and federal unemployment payments.

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.

Liam James Doyle / NPR

Oklahoma’s sole Democrat in Congress said Monday another coronavirus relief bill is needed as cases surge, despite voting against a $3 trillion package in May.

U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn told an AARP virtual town hall the bill known as the HEROES Act was too big and too broad to get her support.

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.

Twitter / @OESCnews

Shelley Zumwalt, interim director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, spoke with KWGS about the agency's claims processing event at Expo Square this week, improving the agency's technology, dealing with fraudulent claims, making sure unemployment is a temporary stopgap and not a disincentive for Oklahomans to return to work, and more. 

Details on Expo Square event:

Twitter / @OESCnews

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission will host a two-day claims processing event in Tulsa.

The unemployment agency will be at Expo Square in Tulsa on July 15th and 16th. OESC has previously held six days of similar events in the Oklahoma City area.

OESC says agents will be on hand to assist claimants with a wide range of issues, including fraudulent claims and federal pandemic assistance payments.

Individuals seeking assistance are encouraged to start lining up at 6:00 a.m. each day. OESC estimates it will be able to assist up to 400 people each day.

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.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

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. 

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Dozens of people rallied at the state Capitol on Monday, complaining that their state unemployment claims aren’t being processed.

Most of those who gathered on the Capitol’s south steps were self-employed and complained of glitches with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission’s website, waiting on hold for hours to talk to an agent and not getting promised call backs.

Pixabay

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

After three weeks of declining new unemployment claims, Oklahoma set another new record during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were 68.237 initial claims last week, almost 16,000 more than the week prior and about 6,500 more than the previous record, set the week ending April 4.

The record number of claims include gig workers who recently became eligible for benefits, but they don’t completely account for the spike.

Tim Mossholder

First-time unemployment claims fell in Oklahoma for the third week in a row.

For the week ended April 18, 42,577 people filed initial jobless claims, 4,119 fewer than the week before.

The 9% decline was less pronounced than a 26% drop the week before.

More than 260,000 Oklahomans have filed for unemployment over the past six weeks, with more than 60,000 in the week ending April 4 alone.

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Some members of the Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development are concerned the additional $600 a week in federally funded unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic will keep workers from returning when their employers reopen.

In a webinar hosted by the Tulsa Regional Chamber on Monday, U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said he fears that the amount of money paid out to Americans as federal unemployment benefits under new coronavirus legislation may be overly generous and bad economic policy.

"That's been the challenge of unemployment during this time period," Lankford said. "That we have a disincentive to get back to work." 

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New jobless claims are down a second straight week in Oklahoma.

Last week, 40,297 people filed for unemployment, a 26% drop from 54,481 the week before.

Almost 225,000 Oklahomans have now lost their jobs over the past five weeks, with a single-week record of more than 60,000 the week ending April 4.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission is now accepting pre-applications from gig workers and others unable to work during the COVID-19 pandemic who don't qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.

Federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits are intended for gig workers, independent contractors, other self-employed individuals and workers whose regular unemployment benefits have expired and were laid off, furloughed or are otherwise out of work due to the pandemic.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Updated April 17, 2:10 p.m.

The City of Tulsa will furlough around 1,000 employees for half-days every Friday beginning May 3 through the end of 2020.

Mayor G.T. Bynum said high unemployment and low oil prices are expected to cause a dramatic drop in sales tax collections, the city's only source of operating funds.

Much like during last year's spring storms when the city decided to warn people to brace for a flood event on par with 1986, officials decided it would be best to prepare now for the worst-case scenario.

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The number of Oklahomans filing first-time unemployment claims declined for the first time since mid-March.

For the week ending April 11, 48,977 Oklahomans filed initial unemployment claims, according to unadjusted numbers from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. That was down from 60,534 claims filed the previous week, which stands as Oklahoma's all-time record.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma's record for new unemployment claims was 9,778 for the week ending Jan. 12, 1991.

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