PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon officials said Friday that an administrative change will enable the state to offer early prepayments to “tens of thousands” of unemployed workers waiting to have their claims adjudicated.
The state’s adjudication process has been clogged by a backlog that typically runs between 12 and 16 weeks, leaving many newly jobless Oregonians without income for months during the coronavirus pandemic, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
Qualifying workers will receive prepayments while their claims work through the adjudication process. They will have to pay the money back if Oregon ultimately denies their claims, but the state says it chose participants who are likely to have claims approved.
The prepayments will still take “several weeks,” according to David Gerstenfeld, the Oregon Employment Department’s interim director.
“We think that it will help a lot of people but it will still take some time,” Gerstenfeld said.
Unemployed workers may face claims adjudication for many reasons including if they have left the state or if they have been laid off by a school district from jobs that typically continue through the summer.
The state says it will notify employees who qualify for the adjudication prepayments by email or robocall. There is no process to apply to participate in the new program.
Email notifications began going out Friday.
The department, wrestling with outdated technology, says it has been unable to determine how many people are waiting for adjudication. But it says the total is large. Many of those workers will receive payments for several thousand dollars in backlogged claims.
Inundated by more than 650,000 jobless claims since the state’s COVID-19 shutdown began in March, and grappling with a computer system that dates to 1993, the employment department has struggled to pay benefits throughout the pandemic.