Unemployed Oklahomans who are self-employed rallied at the state Capitol Monday wanting answers to why their claims have not been fulfilled after weeks of waiting. Sen. Mary Boren has been working tirelessly trying to get answers as many unemployed Oklahomans are facing eviction and other financial troubles.
“Being that the state has already received its federal unemployment funds, I don’t understand why these citizens aren’t getting their benefits,” Boren said. “It’s beyond frustrating that our citizens, through no fault of their own had to close their businesses because of the health crisis yet haven’t received the unemployment benefits they were promised. Something must be done immediately so these people don’t lose their homes, cars, or have to close their businesses permanently and experience complete financial ruin.”
Boren said her office has been inundated with calls and emails of Oklahomans who have not received any unemployment benefits, cannot get through to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission to get an update on their case, or if they do get through are told someone will get back to them but never does.
Three types of unemployment are currently available to self-employed Oklahomans, gig workers, independent contractors and those who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits.
1. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is available to those who do not qualify for regular unemployment insurance benefits. PUA benefits became available at the end of April.
2. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance will begin this week and will provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits (through the week ending Dec. 26, 2020) to those who have exhausted regular unemployment insurance benefits.
3. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation provides an additional $600 per week to all eligible Unemployment Insurance claimants through the week ending July 25, 2020.
The Norman senator cited a survey from the Oklahoma Self-Employed Professionals, a group of private citizens who have received no PUA assistance and are demanding accountability from the OESC, the governor and other state leaders. The survey included responses from more than 300 Oklahomans.
Nearly half of respondents said they have received no confirmation that their claim has been approved or denied. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said they have been disconnected at least twice when calling in to check on the status of their claim. Only 14 percent of those approved for PUA have been able to file their weekly claims.
The survey found that when people did get through they experienced long wait times. More than 28 percent said they waited 30 minutes to an hour, nearly 16 percent waited 1-2 hours, and nearly 24 percent waited over 2 hours to talk to an OESC employee about their claim.
Of those surveyed, 88 percent said when their call was answered there was no Tier 1 Specialist available to help them. Nearly 46% said when they talked to a Tier 1 Specialist, they were provided incorrect information.
When speaking to a Tier 1 Specialist, 69 percent were told their case was “high priority” or “critical” and that they were at the top of the list for a Tier 2 agent to return their call. Nearly 85 percent of these individuals are still waiting to be contacted by a Tier 2 agent. Less than 3 percent of those who have talked to a Tier 2 agent said they were able to address their issue successfully.
“This is a just a small reflection of what is happening to Oklahomans all over the state. I urge Gov. Stitt to hold OESC accountable and get these hardworking Oklahomans the benefits they have earned and deserve before their lives are destroyed. This isn’t a game. These are people’s lives and they need relief immediately,” Boren said.
According to OESC, the state has received just over $1.21 billion in federal funds for PUA, PEUC and FPUC.