Unemployment

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.

Judge Orders Oklahoma To Resume Extra Jobless Payments

Aug 9, 2021
Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma judge has ordered the state to reinstate a pandemic-related supplemental federal unemployment assistance program that was cut off to thousands of workers in June.

In a letter to attorneys in the case late Friday, Oklahoma County District Judge Anthony Bonner granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting Oklahoma from withdrawing from the program until he issues a final order in the case, or until the program expires in September.

U.S. Army

Several Oklahomans are suing over Gov. Kevin Stitt’s decision to end additional federal unemployment benefits late last month, alleging he overstepped his authority and violated federal law

Stitt announced in May the extra $300 a week covered by federal coronavirus relief funding would stop June 26 and be repurposed for a back-to-work incentive.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has scheduled a referee hearing for Aug. 11 in one of the lawsuits. The governor's office said they can't comment on pending litigation.

Oklahoma Jobless Rate Drops; New Stipend To Be Available

Jun 25, 2021
KWGS News File Photo

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission on Friday reported a drop in the state’s jobless rate in May, even as the numbers of initial unemployment claims and the moving average of initial claims rise.

The May unemployment rate of 4% is down from 4.3% in April while initial claims for the week ending June 12 increased by 1,680 to 10,614. The four-week moving average of initial claims rose by 493 to 10,158, according to the report released Thursday.

The four-week moving average for continued claims in the state rose by 353 to 34,404.

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.

Oklahoma Unemployment Claims A Mixed Bag

Apr 23, 2021
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Unemployment claims in Oklahoma showed mixed numbers as initial claims for benefits declined while continuing claims increased, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Thursday, For the week ending April 17, unadjusted initial claims of 16,034 were below the previous week’s number of 17,997 while continuing claims for benefits rose from 25,593 to 31,976, OESC reported. “Last week, we saw a decrease in initial claims, with an increase in continued employment claims, which is likely due to an increase in initial claims from the previous week rolling into the cont

Virus-Related Unemployment Claims Rise In Oklahoma

Apr 19, 2021
Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Virus-related claims for unemployment benefits, including initial and continuing claims and the four-week moving average, have increased in Oklahoma according to the state Employment Security Commission.

Commission director Shelley Zumwalt said the increase is due to people who lost jobs at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago reapplying, as required, after 52 weeks.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Republican Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma's first congressional district says that generous, pandemic-inspired unemployment benefits are harming American children.

"My childhood was marred by dependence on government aid that motivated my stepdad to stay at home rather than work," Hern said, appearing virtually at a hearing of the House Worker and Family Support Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 24. "My siblings and I bore that burden."

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The state unemployment agency is working on implementing two new federal relief programs.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission expects to start distributing $300 weekly benefits from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan by the end of next week.

The agency is also working on Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation, a new but optional program included in the COVID relief package signed by then-President Donald Trump in December. That program offers an additional $100 per week.

Fewer Oklahomans Seeking To Continue Unemployment Benefits

Jan 15, 2021
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The number of Oklahomans filing to continue their unemployment benefits continued to decline, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported Thursday.

The agency reported the four-week moving average of claims to continue unemployment benefits decreased for the 29th consecutive week. The agency reported a slight increase in initial claims this week, though, attributing the increase in part to seasonal work coming to a close.

Facebook / Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

President Trump signed a COVID-19 relief bill providing for certain unemployment benefits two Sundays ago, but the state of Oklahoma says it still hasn't received the federal funding or guidance necessary to pay out many claims.

"We will have to receive multiple guidance documents from [the U.S. Department of Labor] to administer these programs," said Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Director Shelley Zumwalt in a video posted to social media Saturday evening. 

Facebook / Oklahoma Department of Human Services

Oklahoma's system of public assistance programs can be "complicated and unpredictable" for low-income residents who depend on it, according to a new report.

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.

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.

On this edition of our show, we listen back to an interview from 2018 about a book called "Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century." This book is the basis for a forthcoming feature-film starring Frances McDormand. Our guest is the author of the book, Jessica Bruder.

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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.

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 Approved for $300 Unemployment Benefit

Aug 19, 2020
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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.

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