ONTARIO, Ore. — Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of Oregonians still haven't seen a dime of unemployment benefits.
One young man is still waiting for his money as he also recovers from the coronavirus.
Dominick Nevarez said he calls the Oregon Employment Department every day, several times, to try to get a hold of somebody about his claim. It still hasn't been processed.
"I only reached them once. I managed to not get a busy signal two other times, got hung up on, and only ever spoken to someone one time," said Nevarez, who lives in Idaho but worked in Ontario, Oregon.
It's never a good time to lose your job, but Nevarez said he lost his at the unluckiest time. He ended up losing his job at Kraft Heinz in Ontario in late April, right as the economy was tanking.
Ten weeks later, he hasn't received a cent of benefits and his only option is to continue to wait.
"Then I got stuck in this backlog of people that need unemployment so I'm just waiting," Nevarez said. "I haven't paid rent in three months. Luckily I have a landlord that's cool enough to understand it's not my fault. The employment department hasn't paid me. If it wasn't for him I would be out of a place."
His story is similar to thousands of others' as they struggle to get unemployment insurance in Oregon.
The employment department has received more than 505,300 regular unemployment claims since mid-March. Its own data shows it has processed 99% of those claims. But only a little over half the people who've filed have seen any money.
"It makes me feel sad for the state we're in," Nevarez said. "They should come back and figure out who shouldn't have gotten paid later and just start sending money out."
Dominick's story would be tough enough with just the unemployment troubles. But he says he and his girlfriend also have COVID-19.
About two weeks ago, her test came back positive.
"Mine was what they call inconclusive because I think I took mine a little too early," Nevarez said. "She had symptoms several days before I did. But we live in the same household and I have every symptom of it so the doctors told me there's no way I don't have it. I can't taste anything; everything hurts."
Homebound by the virus, he can't do much of anything to try to make any money.
"I can't even go donate plasma," he said "I can't try to get a loan from a bank because I'm stuck at home not making any money, with nothing I can do about it. And the only answer I get from the department is, 'Oh just wait, we'll get a hold of you'
"It is scary, for sure. That's really the biggest thing: the unknown, the fact that I can't get an answer from anyone."
While Nevarez has been waiting more than two months, Employment Department Director David Gerstenfeld said in a media briefing Wednesday afternoon that two months is about how long it takes to process regular unemployment claims. Anyone whose claim has taken longer than that should try calling the employment department, he said.
More involved claims can take three to four months from when OED spots an issue. But Gerstenfeld says they've made good progress in moving backlogged regular claims along.
Watch Gerstenfeld's entire briefing updating the media on claims processing and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program here.