High volumes of unemployment claims continue

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

OKLAHOMA CITY – The number of initial claims for unemployment benefits filed with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) for the week ending May 23, 2020, continued to reflect the impact of business closures due to the COVID-19 and oil industry crises, the OESC said.

For the week ending May 23, 2020, unadjusted initial claims in Oklahoma totaled 32,127, a decrease of 1,313 from the previous adjusted week of 33,440, revised up 9,560 from the initially reported total of 23,880.

Nationally, the seasonally adjusted initial claims totaled 2,123,000 a decrease of 323,000 from the previous week’s revised level of 2,446,000. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate for the country was 14.5 percent for the week ending May 16, down 2.6 percent.

“Even as our business community reopens and recalls workers, the number of new unemployment claims remain historically high,” said OESC Interim Director Shelley Zumwalt. “PUA claimants must first be denied regular unemployment insurance and the number of these claims now tops 62,000.”

PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) is designed for gig workers, independent contractors, and other self-employed individuals who do not qualify for regular unemployment relief.

More than 4,000 Oklahomans have filed for PEUC, 13 weeks of additional unemployment benefits for individuals who have exhausted the traditional UI assistance of 26 weeks. This program runs through the week ending December 26, 2020 and is backdated to March 29, 2020.

More than $1 billion in total benefits have been paid to Oklahoma claimants during the COVID-19 and oil industry crises, with more than 475,000 persons filing for unemployment relief by the week ending May 23, 2020, according to the OESC.

The total benefits paid figure includes $400,321,064 paid in weekly regular and PUA claims and $641,848,825 paid in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Benefits – the additional $600 paid each week to eligible claimants through the week ending July 25, 2020.

“The number of Oklahomans struggling to make ends meet in the face of our state’s staggering job loss is astounding,” Zumwalt said. “My mission is to resolve all pending claims without delay to make sure people out of work receive the relief they’ve been expecting.”

Individuals seeking unemployment benefits under the CARES Act should go to https://ui.ok.gov and create an account with the Get Started button to connect their social security number and pull all unemployment information into one location.

Unemployment claimants should be aware that not returning to work when recalled or when work is available could potentially result in them be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.

Employers may report this activity by emailing returntowork@oesc.state.ok.us, calling 405-962-7524, or mailing OESC at P.O. Box 52006, Oklahoma City, OK, 73152-2006, according to the OESC.

If a claimant returns to work full-time, they should keep their unemployment claim open with OESC and not certify a weekly claim. If they return part-time, a claimant may continue to certify their weekly claim and must report all gross earnings for the week to potentially receive a partial benefit. Eligibility for continued benefits is determined on the circumstances of each individual claimant.

OESC provides resources for people looking to re-enter the job market by connecting jobless Oklahomans with available employment through https://okjobmatch.com.

If a PUA eligible claimant reopens their business, they will still receive backdated unemployment benefits to when their COVID-19 related job loss or business closure occurred.

The national weekly seasonally adjusted initial claims report is one of ten components in the Composite Index of Leading Economic Indicators. To smooth out the volatility in the weekly initial claims data, a 4-week moving average is used to assess trends.

In Oklahoma, the less volatile initial claims four-week moving average declined 5,093 to 49,633 for the week ending 5/23/2020.