It’s important to get our economy moving again

Sen. Bill Coleman District 10
Oklahoma Senate

Between the energy sector struggling and the pandemic shutting down commerce, our economy is suffering. Last week, the state Treasurer’s office announced that Oklahoma Gross Receipts (which includes all the state’s revenue sources) to the Treasury fell another 14% last month.

There was some positive news, in that two of the six major revenue sources did increase. Use tax, which includes online and out-of-state purchases, and individual income tax brought in an additional $13 million over last May.

In total, the last 12 months of gross receipts were $477 million or 3.5% lower than the previous year.

All Oklahomans are hurting in one way or another, and I pray our state and economy heal quickly so we can get back to normal life. Last year, Oklahoma had one of its strongest economies in history. Together, we can help restore that economy.

As we move forward, we must continue protecting ourselves and those around us by continuing to wash our hands regularly, wear masks when possible and observe social distancing. The virus is not gone. We’re continuing to see 90-plus new cases a day. Caution is the only thing that will stop it.

On the flipside, we need to work together to help our local businesses, which we can do without putting ourselves and others in danger. If you don’t feel safe, consider buying gift cards from local restaurants (especially the privately-owned, non-chain establishments that won’t have corporate funds to depend on) as well as nail and hair salons, massage parlors and other businesses that haven’t been able to open at full capacity yet. We must get more revenue into our communities, not only to help local businesses but help our state overall.

If you’re unemployed or are a business owner looking to hire, please check out the state’s main job database at www.okjobmatch.com. You can apply for and post jobs to this site.

The most satisfying part of my duties as your state senator is helping you with problems or issues with the State of Oklahoma. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, my office has been inundated with requests for help with unemployment claims. OESC is a very small agency whose antiquated website and technology simply couldn’t keep up with the more than 475,000 Oklahomans who have filed for unemployment.

Between their staff, website and computer systems, OESC was initially set up to handle only 1,000 claims a week. When the pandemic hit and layoffs occurred, that number exploded to 50,000-plus a week. They didn’t have the technology or staff to handle this historic crisis. They have since partnered with the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to update their IT and business services along with their website. The remainder of the backlog should, hopefully, be addressed this week.

I want to thank my Executive Assistant, Cindy Stevens, who took it upon herself to be the go-to person for Senate District 10 constituents having unemployment issues. She is still handling those today as the state’s unemployment benefit system is modernized. In addition to being a conduit between constituents and OESC, Cindy has been a sounding board for frustrated citizens.

For those of you who have contacted my office for help with unemployment, please be sure to thank Cindy, who has gone above and beyond to help. I’m glad to have her as my EA, and she has been a great servant to the citizens of District 10 since 2015.

We’re also hearing of businesses struggling to get their employees to return to work. Please know that once your work reopens, you cannot continue to file for unemployment. If you’re an employer and have staff refusing to return to work, please report them to returntowork@oesc.state.ok.us, by calling 405-962-7524, or mailing OESC at P.O. Box 52006, Oklahoma City, OK, 73152-2006.

If I can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me by calling (405) 521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.