The number of initial claims for unemployment benefits filed with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) for the week ending May 30, 2020, shows the impact of business closures and job loss due to COVID-19, as well as the oil industry crisis, which all continues to grip the Sooner State’s economy and families.
For the week ending May 30, 2020, unadjusted initial claims in Oklahoma totaled 37,986, a decrease of 5,728 from the previous adjusted week of 43,714, revised up 11,587 from the initially reported total of 32,127.
Nationally, the seasonally adjusted initial claims totaled 1,877,000, a decrease of 249,000 from the previous week’s revised level of 2,126,000. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate for the country was 14.8% for the week ending May 23, up 0.5%.
“We’re changing the way we’ve always done things as the cumulative number of Oklahomans filing unemployment claims tops 500,000,” said OESC Interim Director Shelley Zumwalt. “Desperate times call for innovative solutions and we’ve assembled some exceptional people to revise our procedures to get people the benefits they so urgently need.”
Among the changes Zumwalt implemented during her first week as interim director was to push through more than 27 thousand claims that had been held up for a variety of reasons in the complex unemployment approval process.
“Thousands of Oklahomans who had been waiting weeks for resolution of their claims are now in paid status,” Zumwalt said. “The challenge under this system continues to be that a solution to one problem tends to create another obstacle that has to be overcome.”
Many claimants did not receive funds until Tuesday or Wednesday as the increased number of claims moved to pay status last week caused delays in processing debit card and direct deposit transactions.
“We are focused on the process and eliminating the red tape,” Zumwalt said. “We’ve now moved many of our Level 2 claims agents down to Level 1 in order to meet and help people on the front end.”
The agency is also putting Level 1 claims agents through additional training to better assist claimants in clearing issues and reducing the need to escalate claims to the next level. Claimants may experience longer Call Center wait times while questions are answered, and issues resolved.
The complexity of an unemployment claim has always required a period of review. The more complex the claim, the longer it takes to process. Zumwalt is leading the effort to break that log jam by implementing automation to systematically resolve issues and erase inherent delays built into the decade’s old unemployment claims structure.
“We have to be results-oriented and solution-driven,” Zumwalt said. “We’re quickly approaching three months since these crises began. Yes, Oklahoma is reopening and striving to get back to normal. In the meantime, we still have tens of thousands of people with no job to return to and lots of responsibilities to meet and OESC will provide that relief.”