Thousands continue to file for unemployment in Oklahoma

Oklahoma workers struggling with unemployment due to COVID-19

DUNCAN, Okla. (TNN) -Close to 275-thousand Oklahomans are out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Each week, thousands file for unemployment...some getting approved, others still waiting for a call back.

Kerry Rice works as an entertainment coach driver hauling musicians and artists from show to show. Due to the pandemic, concerts have been cancelled, which means so has his job.

“I was on my way to Chicago mid-March, when I got a phone call to turn around and go back home since the tour had cancelled due to the virus,” said Rice.

Since then he’s tried to file for unemployment, but like many in Oklahoma, has found it difficult.

“Very frustrating, I have made over a thousand calls,” said Rice. “I have been on the website numerous times. You can’t go any further on the website without actually talking to a level 2 OESC agent.”

Prior to the pandemic, the average number of claims a week was about 1500 claims. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission says they’ve processed more claims in the last five weeks, than the entire year of 2019.

“So the surge of claims as the result of business closures and job losses has been tremendous,” said Trey Davis, OESC spokesperson. “And it has put a certain amount of strain on a system that really wasn’t built to handle that kind of influx of wage claims.”

Davis says besides the influx of claims they’re working to process, they’re trying to work through issues with the debit cards that are supposed to be issued to those who get approved.

“Typically these take 7 to 10 business days to arrive, but with the influx of claims not just in Oklahoma, but in other states with who Conduent has a contract, they’re seeing that the wait time for that debit card is approximately 14 to 18 days,” said Davis.

After the airing of this story, Conduent sent us the following statement:

“We are working closely with the State of Oklahoma to fulfill the unprecedented increase in disbursement of unemployment benefits. As indicated, a number of entities are involved in working as quickly as possible to get cards into the hands of hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans in need. We continue to deliver our portion of the fulfillment as rapidly as possible, and we are working cooperatively with the State and other vendors to make sure that Oklahomans get their benefits as quickly as possible.”

For workers like Rice, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance may be what he gets approved for. Which according to Davis, is now available to apply for.

“This is assistance for those individuals who don’t qualify for regular unemployment insurance compensation,” said Davis. "This would be gig workers, independent contractors, other self employed individuals, or those individuals who unemployment benefits may have already been exhausted.

Davis says the PUA website has experienced a few glitches, since it is brand new. But they are working to get those fixed.

To sign up for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, you can go to OESC.OK.gov.

A statement from Conduent was added to this story after the original airing.

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