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People waiting for unemployment can get a $500 relief check

Oregonians who are still waiting to receive unemployment benefits can apply for a one-time emergency payment of $500.

The program to distribute $35 million in federal COVID-19 relief fund dollars launched Wednesday. It will continue until the money is used up.

Oregon legislators who approved the relief payments said they expect the program will help 70,000 state residents during a time of great economic uncertainty. They are relying on banks and credit unions to distribute the money.

In Southern Oregon, residents can apply through Rogue Credit Union and Umpqua Bank branches either online or in person. They do not need to be members of those financial institutions.

“Rogue was founded by people who believed that together, we’re stronger. We’re here for our communities during tough times, and we’re proud to help facilitate access to emergency relief funds that many Southern Oregonians need,” said Gene Pelham, president and chief executive officer for Rogue Credit Union.

To be eligible, a person must be at least 18, an in-state resident of Oregon, be able to prove their identity, attest that they are experiencing severe financial hardship due to COVID-19 restrictions, have earned less than $4,000 per month before losing income due to the pandemic, and have not received all the unemployment benefits they are owed.

People who think they may qualify should go to emergencychecks.oregon.gov or call 2-1-1 and ask about Oregon’s Emergency Relief Check Program. An operator will direct people to a participating financial institution nearest them. The 2-1-1 service operates as a clearinghouse for information on resources, including help with rent and mortgage payments, food and child care.

Members of Rogue Credit Union can apply online at roguecu.org/covid-19. Nonmembers can also visit that website, fill out and print an application, then bring the form plus current identification and proof of address to a local branch. Face coverings are required inside due to state regulations.

With an unprecedented spike in unemployment triggered by COVID-19, the Oregon Employment Department was unable to handle the flood of unemployment claims. Claims went from a few thousand a week to more than 100,000 when restrictions were most stringent.

Unemployment was also expanded to cover more people, including the self-employed, who generally don’t qualify for benefits. That created a surge of complex cases the state’s antiquated computer system wasn’t designed to handle.

While Gov. Kate Brown’s orders to contain COVID-19 have likely prevented thousands of cases and saved hundreds of lives, they have impacted people’s incomes, said Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney.

“With such a huge jump in unemployment, some people are still waiting for their benefits,” he said. “We know $500 isn’t going to solve all of these problems, but if we can help a family buy groceries for the month, pay for child care or cover an unexpected repair, it’s worth it.”

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek said the state is stepping up to help and she hopes Congress will act soon to provide more support.

“While we know these limited funds aren’t enough and won’t allow us to help everyone, we felt it was important to try something,” she said. “After months of hearing from increasingly desperate Oregonians who were doing everything right and still not getting the unemployment they were owed, we hope this effort offers a streamlined way for some financial relief.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.