Coronavirus Update: Information on Unemployment Benefits

House Speaker Tina Kotek

Coronavirus Update: Information on Unemployment Benefits

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Today’s newsletter will primarily focus on updates on the processing of unemployment benefits by the Oregon Employment Department (OED).

My staff and I have regular conversations with OED representatives and are pushing hard to get answers for people who are still waiting on their benefits.

I know that information is no substitute for benefits. If you are experiencing problems with any of the unemployment application processes, including a lack of communication as to whether your claim has been processed, please continue to reach out to my office, and we will do all we can to assist you.

Did You Apply in March?

One of the things my office has been trying to figure out is this: How many people who filed in March for unemployment are still waiting to be helped? According to the agency, there are 292 initial claims filed through March 28 that have not yet been processed. These are more complicated claims that, we assume, are being worked on and the applicant knows their claim is being worked on. Sometimes the communication back to the applicant has not been consistent.

If you filed in March and have heard nothing from the agency about the status of your claim, please let us know.

Please be assured that the agency understands, and I understand, that each single claim not yet resolved is someone who is in desperate need of benefits and anxious about whether they are eligible and when they will get their benefits. The agency has trained, and continues to train, more people on the more complex situations that have been taking longer to resolve. Also, unemployment is a weekly benefit, and the state is required to determine eligibility each week. There are things other than processing the initial claim that can prevent someone from getting benefits, such as if someone files their weekly claim and answers a question in a way that raises an issue so that an OED employee needs to review and possibly investigate.

Talking To A Person

I’m still frustrated that applicants are waiting for hours – if they can even get through – to speak with someone at OED. We’ve been told that the department will make improvements to their phone functionality in the days and weeks to come. The State of Washington has had some success with “Operation 100%” – something Oregon is also looking at. We’ve also heard about initial plans to improve access to phone lines that support applicants whose primary language is not English.

My general perspective is that applicants really need to know the status of their claims, and being able to get something more than a busy signal or being told to send an email would be really appreciated. Quite a few folks have had success calling local WorkSource offices to get at least a status update on their claim.

Extended Benefits Available

Oregon is taking applications for benefits through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which was part of the federal CARES Act that provides an extension to regular unemployment insurance benefits.

You could be eligible for PEUC if:

  • You used all benefits from a current claim for regular unemployment insurance benefits.
  • Your most recent valid claim expired prior to June 30, 2019.
  • You do not qualify for a claim in any other state, Canada, or through another federal program.
  • You meet the department’s temporary eligibility requirements related to COVID-19, found here.

Some PEUC benefits have already been paid out, according to OED. If you have used all benefits from a current claim and qualify for PEUC, the application for traditional unemployment insurance should redirect you to the PEUC application. More information on the program is available here.

Updates for PUA Benefits

Payments through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides unemployment benefits to workers who otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment, started going out last week.

Among the primary frustrations our office and others have heard about this program is that applicants did not get any acknowledgement that the department had received their claim. Starting next week, this is supposed to change.

The department is establishing an automated email response system to notify new applicants. It may take up to two weeks for all of these receipt notifications to be functional, but this will be a feature going forward for PUA applications. The department is also working on a dial program to notify those who have applied but haven’t had their claim processed yet.

OED is in the process of taking email and faxed applications and entering them into the online system. This is manual work that takes away from claims processing, but it’s necessary to ensure applicants can efficiently monitor their status.

PUA initial claims and weekly claims can now be done entirely online. OED is working on improving the new program to confirm receipt of claims. We are hopeful this will be functional in the coming weeks.

Below are videos from the department that walk through the PUA application process for both new claims and weekly claims.

PUA New Claim Video 5-21-2020

PUA Weekly Claim Video 5-21-2020

I know there has been some confusion about who qualifies for the PUA program, as opposed to traditional unemployment benefits. If you’ve received wages via a W-2 tax form in the last year, the department recommends you should file through the regular system, not PUA. These programs require different applications and different information, so filling out the wrong one can slow down benefits going out. Here is the department’s FAQ on who qualifies for PUA.

We still don’t know how many PUA applicants have applied because of the various submission methods. We need to know who we are serving, and I would like to see these figures reported regularly.

If you live in a part of the state that is reopening or work in a field that has reopened statewide, the PUA program restricts who can continue receiving benefits if the applicant is eligible to return to work. If you’ve been diagnosed with the virus, have an underlying health condition, are part of a vulnerable population or have been instructed to stay home by a health care provider, you will continue to qualify and can self-certify when filing your weekly claim.

There is a chance you may have to provide further documentation after the fact, like a note from a health care provider, so I recommend saving that information.

The CARES Act has a list of criteria to meet in order to get benefits if you are able to return to work. More information on those criteria, such as needing to provide child care due to the pandemic or staying home to care for someone suffering from COVID-19, can be found here.

Otherwise, if an individual doesn’t return to work, they will no longer be eligible for PUA. This is a federal program, which means Oregon can’t change those restrictions. This is very frustrating, as I know Oregonians have very legitimate reasons to be concerned about coronavirus exposure when returning to work.

Lastly, please let us know if you get messages about needing to restart your claim application. This has been an issue for some people, especially with the PUA program. If this happens, the department does recommend restarting the application. However, we can pass along this information to the department so they are aware of any glitches and can fix them faster.

Health Care Options

Many Oregonians are experiencing layoffs, drastically reduced hours, and uncertainty in their jobs. For those with employer-based health insurance, this can mean the loss of health coverage when it is most vital. To help you navigate your options, the Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS) has put together helpful information here sharing the seven ways workers with employer-based insurance can maintain coverage after a layoff or reduction in hours.

And if you need assistance looking at your options, a licensed health insurance agent can help you. An online tool to help Oregonians find licensed health insurance agents in their area is available through the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace. Enter your ZIP code and select the Health Insurance Agents option to find a list of licensed agents who can help you navigate this process.

The Latest News

  • Governor Brown and a bipartisan group of mayors from 26 cities and towns across Oregon co-signed a letter urging Oregonians to stay in their communities during Memorial Day weekend. You can read the letter here.
  • The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) is fast-tracking applications to expand the sale of alcohol to sidewalks, streets, and nearby parking lots. The Oregonian has more information here.
  • Do you miss access to your local library? Oregon Public Broadcasting has more information here on when libraries across the state may reopen.
  • The Oregon Health Authority reported 24 more confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 3,725 confirmed cases. The agency announced no new presumptive cases. There are 3,817 confirmed and presumptive cases combined. Sadly, one more person has died, meaning there have been 145 confirmed deaths in Oregon from coronavirus.

OHA COVID-19 Update 5-21-2020

OHA Hospital Capacity 5-21-2020

Tax Filing Support During The Pandemic

If you need help filing your taxes and your household makes below $69,000 a year, CASH Oregon, a program of the Metropolitan Family Service, can help. In response to the pandemic, CASH Oregon is taking its free Volunteer Tax Assistance to the phone. IRS certified volunteers can answer your tax questions and guide you through filing your own taxes. Federal income taxes are due this year on July 15.

For more information, go to the CASH Oregon website or call the free tax help hotline at 503-966-7942. The hotline is available Monday to Wednesday, 9 am to 4 pm.

To read past newsletters, you can go to this link. For up to date information, please check this link to the Oregon Health Authority where regular updates are posted:

Please email me at if you have specific concerns that have not been addressed by the OHA. Our office will do all we can to help and protect all Oregonians.

Thank you for reading! We will get through this together.



Tina Kotek

State Representative
House District 44
Speaker of the House

email: I phone: 503-986-1200
address: 900 Court St NE, H-269, Salem, OR 97301