PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown says Oregon will waive the one-week waiting period before newly laid off workers are eligible for jobless benefits, reversing the state’s policy on the issue. The switch could provide more than $100 million in additional benefits to Oregonians who have lost their jobs to the coronavirus outbreak.
The governor’s office said the change will apply retroactively to workers who have already filed for benefits.
The coronavirus rescue package Congress approved last month included funding to eliminate the waiting week and many states quickly moved to drop it.
However, the Oregon Employment Department said last week that the state’s antiquated computer systems made it impractical to waive the waiting week. The department said a waiver would require “thousands of hours” of reprogramming and would delay other benefits to workers.
With nearly 300,000 Oregonians out of work because of the outbreak, and layoffs continuing to mount, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported this week that the decision to leave the waiting week in place stood to cost those workers well over $100 million.
All seven members of the state’s congressional delegation said this week that the governor should implement the waiver. In a reply to the delegation dated Wednesday, the governor said she will comply.
“I am working with the department on waiving the ‘waiting week,’” the governor wrote. “As you know, the department operates an older (unemployment insurance) system, and it will take thousands of hours of programming to make this change. However, I am committed to ensuring that all eligible Oregonians receive the maximum benefits available to them.”
The governor set no timetable for implementing the waiver and neither her office nor the employment department immediately responded to questions about whether the change will apply retroactively.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reported this week that the state received federal funding to update its computer systems in 2009 but has only begun work on the project in the past few years. The state estimates the project will cost between $80 million and $123 million.
The outdated computer systems, which date to the 1990s, have hamstrung efforts to speed benefits to Oregon’s laid-off workers. The employment apologized last week for the frustrations and delays.
While many claims have gone through automatically, and the state paid out $97 million in benefits last week, thousands of other workers have not received benefits because the state’s computers erroneously denied their claims.
Meanwhile, the employment department’s outdated systems have been unable to implement congressionally authorized changes to the jobless claims program to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
That means thousands of newly eligible Oregonians, including contractors and self-employed workers, have been unable to file claims or receive their benefits. The state says those out-of-work Oregonians will eventually get their money but has not set a timetable for when its computers will be able to process those claims.
Oregonian reporter Hillary Borrud contributed to this article.
This article was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.