OESC adds to staff to process COVID-19 related claims

Sen. Bill Coleman District 10, Oklahoma Senate

On Wednesday of last week, the governor announced that the COVID-19 hospitalization cases are now expected to peak on April 30. Elective surgeries may resume on April 24, and the “Safer at Home” executive order for vulnerable populations has been extended to May 6. The governor and other state leaders are looking at all the health data around the state and nation to decide when it will be safe to reopen our state’s economy. Gov. Stitt is a businessman, so he knows very well what businesses and their employees are going through. Getting our economy up and running as soon as possible is his top priority.

Many received relief last week, when their stimulus checks were deposited into their bank accounts. More stimulus checks will be arriving in the coming weeks.

Receiving unemployment benefits, especially for those who are self-employed, is one of Oklahomans’ greatest concerns. More than 200,000 Oklahomans have applied for unemployment benefits. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) has updated its website to withstand additional volume and applications, and it has also added to its call center staff. This should help speed up the unemployment filing process. These are unprecedented times. Not only is traditional unemployment at one of the highest levels in history, but the federal government is extending benefits to self-employed individuals. This has forced OESC to bring in more help from other agencies to work in the call center and with processing the historic number of claims.

The federal government is expected to authorize states to begin processing claims for gig workers, independent contractors and other self-employed individuals. For the first time in our nation’s history, these individuals can receive up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits under the terms of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Eligibility goes back to Feb. 2, 2020, and is limited to COVID-19 related causes for job/contract loss or business closure.

For those who are self-employed and have been denied under the PUA, please know this more than likely occurred simply because the states hadn’t been authorized to give unemployment benefits to these particular individuals yet. You don’t need to reapply or file a monetary appeal. Instead, send OESC your proof of earnings documentation so they will have it when PUA launches. This was expected to happen last week.

Again, you can file at www.unemployment.ok.gov, and photo IDs can be submitted to idverification@oesc.state.ok.us. In the past, the agency has required documentation to be faxed in, but realizes that most citizens don’t have access to a fax machine now. If you do have a fax machine, you can fax your documentation to 405-962-7524. You can also email wage verification or other supporting documents to 4059627524@faxoesc.state.ok.us. Finally, documentation can also be mailed to: OESC, PO Box 520006, Oklahoma City, OK 73152-2006.

On Thursday of last week, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety was the first committee to hold a public virtual meeting. Be sure to check our website at www.oksenate.gov for daily committee schedules. This week, we’ll begin working on executive nominations in our committees. These must be completed for the various boards and commissions to continue their work in the coming year. Our main focus has been addressing the current fiscal year revenue failure, which we did the week before last, and are awaiting action by the Board of Equalization and the governor. We are also close to completing work on next year’s budget. I’ll have more legislative updates next week.

You can contact me by calling (405) 521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.