An error in Oregon’s jobless claims system that confounded scores of workers on Easter Sunday returned a week later, despite the state’s insistence the problem was fixed.
Sunday morning, the Oregon Employment Department’s website was again telling many workers they must restart their claims when they make their weekly filing for benefits. That’s a mistake — most workers do not need to start over — but they didn’t have an immediate alternative Sunday morning to make their weekly filing for continued benefits.
The department’s website incorrectly said, “The restart stop issue has been fixed.” When workers tried to file their weekly claims Sunday morning, though, the system instructs them to “Restart Your Claim.”
After several hours, the employment department said it resolved the issue with its systems, blaming a “record level of online claim processing, paired with other weekend system maintenance” for the problems. “As of just a few minutes ago, we’ve already seen at least 20,000 who received the re-start error this morning now successfully file their weekly claim,” communications manager Gail Krumenauer wrote in a 1 p.m. email. “The fix is working.”
After the breakdown in the claims system last week, the employment department promised the “re-start error” wouldn’t happen again at the start of this week.
The employment department is struggling to cope with an onslaught of jobless claims. Close to 300,000 Oregonians lost their jobs in the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak as restaurants, bars and many other businesses shut down to contain the epidemic.
The department has been unable to process many claims because it still relies on a 1990s computer system to process claims. The state has been planning an overhaul since it received federal funding for an upgrade in 2009 but estimates the new computers won’t be fully in place until 2025.
Oregon’s antiquated computers frequently deny claims to people who are legally entitled to benefits, a problem that has exploded with the surge in claims. That’s resulted in jammed phone lines and delays in benefits to thousands of newly laid off workers.
Meanwhile, Oregon has been unable to adapt its computers to process changes in the jobless benefits system that Congress approved last month to alleviate the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus. That means thousands of more unemployed Oregonians are not receiving full benefits.
For example, Oregon cannot process claims made by gig workers and the self-employed even though Congress made them eligible for benefits last month. The state has given no estimate of when it will be able to process their claims.
And Oregon has been unable to waive the “waiting week” — a period before for newly unemployed workers are eligible to start receiving financial benefits. Congress authorized state to waive the waiting period last month but Oregon, unlike other states, has been unable to implement the waiver.
Under pressure from Oregon’s congressional delegation, Gov. Kate Brown said last week the state will eventually waive the waiting period and make it retroactive to workers who already filed claims. But Brown said that will require “thousands of hours” of computer programming and gave no estimate of when that will take place.