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Oregon Struggling To Handle Record Unemployment Claims

Thousands of businesses in Oregon have laid off workers in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, newly jobless Oregonians trying to get unemployment benefits say they’re frustrated with a system that’s overwhelmed by new claims. 

The Oregon Employment Department took in about 4,900 initial claims for unemployment insurance. A week later, that figure skyrocketed to more than 76,500 claims. Jammed phone lines and online error messages greeted many new applicants.

The Employment Department’s Gail Krumenauer acknowledges the frustration and says the agency is scrambling to get in front of demand.

"We’re catching up to this really unprecedented level of claims," she says." And we know it’s talking more than a week to get to those initial claims."

Krumenauer says the agency has doubled and will soon triple its staffing level and is adding phone lines and making website upgrades to handle the increased workload.

She advises new applicants for unemployment insurance to apply online, rather than over the phone, to get faster service.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.