Oregon said Friday that an administrative change will enable the state to offer early prepayments to “tens of thousands” of unemployed workers who are 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 at a time through the heart of the pandemic.
Now, 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 their claims approved.
The prepayments will still take “several weeks,” according to David Gerstenfeld, the Oregon Employment Department’s interim director. But he said they’ll be much faster than waiting through the whole adjudication process.
“We’re excited about this. 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 – if they have complicated work histories, for example, 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, but in some cases the emails appear to have gone to workers whose claims were not in adjudication, and had already been paid.
“As much as I would like to think this process will go perfectly, I’m sure there will be some bumps,” Gerstenfeld said.
The department, wrestling with outdated technology, says it has been unable to determine how many people are waiting for adjudication.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 very 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 coronavirus 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.
At times, close to 200,000 people appear to have been waiting for backlogged claims. The department has substantially reduced the number of claims in the pipeline, but as it did so the adjudication backlog began the state’s biggest issue.