When it came to paying jobless benefits during the pandemic, Oregon was one of the slowest in the country.
The Oregon Employment Department needed an upgraded computer system before the pandemic struck. And the sudden increase in claims created a terrible backlog. It was one of the worst backlogs in the country. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, took the unprecedented step of calling on the leader of the state’s department to resign. Gov. Kate Brown called for her resignation soon after.
That didn’t fix the problems. In October of 2020, the state still owed hundreds of millions to people who lost their jobs in March and August, The Oregonian reported last year.
We have repeatedly criticized the department’s performance. So it’s only fair that we acknowledge that this week it was reported that it has made some real progress in, well, answering its phones. At its worst, people could be on hold for more than 3 hours. Now, the department is getting to 90% of its calls in 15 minutes. Almost 80% of calls are answered within 5 minutes, The Oregonian reported.
Of course, it’s not all due to improvements at the department. The state is paying jobless benefits to many fewer people now — 32,000 a week down from 320,000 at the beginning of the pandemic.