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Relief checks weren't for people who haven't received 'waiting week' benefits

One point of discussion I didn’t hear much about during the distribution of $500 relief checks for unemployed people was the payment of waiting week unemployment benefits. Technically speaking, how many people have received it? Because if they haven’t, technically speaking, they still have not “received all the unemployment benefits they are still owed.” I know I haven’t received payment for that week. How many others are still waiting? The last bit of news I read was that it might not come until December.

— April

During last week’s distribution of $500 relief payments, the state eligibility guidelines included that people must still be waiting on at least part of their unpaid unemployment benefits and have been hurt financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The waiting week didn’t count as still waiting on unemployment benefits, according to the Oregon Legislature.

Before the pandemic, Oregon required the newly unemployed to wait one week before they could receive benefits. The state waived that waiting week requirement when the pandemic hit.

However, the Oregon Employment Department hasn’t updated its antiquated computer system yet to handle that change and pay out those waiting week benefits. It said doing so would take thousands of hours of computer coding. Fiddling with the system creates the danger that automatic checks-and-balances to stop people from being overpaid would kick in — blocking payments to unemployed workers.

That means everyone who has filed for unemployment benefits is still waiting on those first week payments.

Oregon’s unemployment rate stood at 11.6% in June and 10.4% in July, so the number of people waiting represents a significant chunk of the state’s population of workers. More than 200,000 Oregonians were receiving unemployment benefits in July.

Tens of thousands have yet to receive any benefits at all as the employment department reviews their claims. Oregon expanded unemployment coverage to include the self-employed and other categories of people who aren’t normally eligible.

Last week’s relief payment program allocated $35 million in federal COVID-19 aid to help 70,000 Oregonians. Launched Wednesday, the program had allocated the funds by late Friday morning. People who made appointments to apply can still keep those appointments. The program led to long lines at credit unions and banks around the state.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.