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Unemployment insurance claims skyrocket in Oregon amid coronavirus pandemic

The Oregon Employment Department said the number of initial unemployment insurance claims rose from about 800 on Sunday to 18,500 on Tuesday.

PORTLAND, Ore. — More than 155,000 Oregonians work in restaurants and bars and many lost their jobs Monday when they were forced to close. For small businesses in that category, this shutdown could mean they are closed for good. There is help out there for laid off workers and small business owners, but getting it has not been easy.

Carly Johnson is now one of thousands out of work because of the closure of bars and restaurants.

“You know, it's really a shock,” Johnson said. “I don't think it’s really set in for me because I've had the last few days off anyway, my normal days off, and tomorrow I was supposed to go back, so it's just shocking. It's unbelievable that it's gotten to this point.”

The Oregon Employment Department said the number of initial unemployment insurance claims rose from about 800 on Sunday to 18,500 on Tuesday. The website went offline a few times Monday and Tuesday, making it hard for people like Johnson to apply.

“I ran into some difficulties filing yesterday,” Johnson said. “I think it was around 10 a.m. and the server was going down every few minutes, so it took me several hours to get my application through.”

The employment department said they did maintenance on their website overnight Tuesday and said things are now running smoothly. They are also adding another contact center to handle the increased call volume. You can apply for unemployment benefits online or over the phone.

When Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was asked Wednesday about unemployment benefits she said, “I have to be very, very clear. Our needs will far outweigh our resources.”

Small business owners are also having trouble getting the help they have been promised by the federal government.

Anne Wilson runs an event floral design business in Clackamas that is now closed. She said they can only go a few weeks without any income.

“It depends on how long it goes, but as we're sitting here looking at each other and looking at our kids, we're like, these funds would really help alleviate a lot of worry,” Wilson said.

The funds she is talking about are small business loans. For Wilson to get one, the governor has to submit a request to the U.S. Small Business Administration for a disaster declaration for the entire state. When Wilson went to apply, Clackamas County was not on the list, so she could not get a loan.

Gov. Brown's office said that will be fixed soon, so all counties will be eligible for the loans. A similar issue was happening in Clark County because of the way the paperwork was filed. That should also be fixed soon.

“The small business association loans could be a total life save, total life saver,” Wilson explained.

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