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Oklahoma Asks Unemployment Applicants to File Online

Amid the economic effects of the coronavirus, heavy volumes on both the online and phone systems used by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission to process unemployment insurance claims are stressing both.

by Jack Money, The Oklahoman / April 1, 2020
Shutterstock/Tero Vesalainen

(TNS) — Heavy volumes on both the online and phone systems used by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission to process unemployment insurance claims are stressing both.

The online system at unemployment.ok.gov, however, is the one agency officials prefer applicants to use before attempting to reach a commission representative at 405-525-1500 or 800-555-1554.

People who have not yet filed a claim but have questions about the process should visit ok.gov/oesc/ and click the claimant link on the page to find additional drop-down links to other pages that provide answers to many that are frequently posed. The agency also has an email address, oesc.helps@oesc.state.ok.us, that claimants with questions related to their claims can also use.

“It isn’t necessary to call to file an unemployment claim,” said Robin Roberson, the commission’s executive director. “The agency’s website has information to answer every question. Our phone lines are so clogged, most callers are placed on indefinite hold, disconnected, or completely unable to reach us.”

Before you begin

Here is what you should be prepared to provide before starting the filing process online:

• Your Social Security number, a name, mailing address, telephone number and email address if you are a U.S. citizen, or an alien registration number and expiration date if you are a legal alien.

• A DD Form 214 if you served in the military within the past 18 months.

• A Form SF8 or a Form SF 50 if you have been employed by the federal government in the past 18 months.

• Two digital images to prove your identity, one of which must be a photo ID like an Oklahoma Driver's License or Oklahoma ID, if applicable.

• An 18-month employment history, using names of the employers as they appear on paycheck stubs or W-2 forms, supervisors’ names and contact information.

• Detailed information on the amounts of wages you earned and how you were paid (hourly, weekly or monthly).

• The reason why you are working reduced hours or are no longer working (employees furloughed because of the coronavirus can seek compensation).

As you work through the online process, you will be prompted to provide answers to questions establishing that you are a citizen and a state resident, as well as the employment history the agency requires.

Based on your information, the system will calculate a weekly benefit amount for you (called a determination) and will display that information online for you to review (you also will get one in the mail).

Getting paid

Once eligibility has been approved and a claim amount is calculated, you will have to continue to file weekly claims to receive compensation throughout your eligibility period.

A requirement for you to meet weekly job seeking requirements as part of that process was waived by an executive order signed earlier in mid-March by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Stitt’s order also waived a required waiting period before you begin to receive compensation.

Payments will be made to a debit card issued to you after your application is reviewed and approved.

You may either use the card to make purchases directly or can visit the card issuer’s website to set up a fee-free procedure that will move payments from the card directly into your banking account via direct deposit.

State law limits the maximum allowable amount of unemployment compensation, although those limits could be modified as the pandemic continues to unfold.

Before massive layoffs and furloughs began last month, the maximum benefit an Oklahoman could receive was 25% of Oklahoma’s average annual wage of $46,729 in 2018, or $11,700.

Your benefit traditionally would be tied to the amount of wages subject to unemployment tax earned prior to filing.

It also would set a maximum weekly benefit to enable total compensation to be provided over a five-month long period.

Applicants’ experiences

If you believe your determination is incorrect, that is when you need to attempt to reach a claims representative by phone to determine what you must do to correct the miscalculation.

But that can be hard to do, especially right now.

One applicant who attempted to file a claim online Monday afternoon, for example, was able to successfully use Oklahoma’s online system to create an initial unemployment insurance benefits claim.

However, the online program calculated her weekly benefit at zero dollars, given that a past employer whose information she provided hadn’t paid unemployment taxes into the system.

When she tried to amend her claim, she was disconnected. Once back into the site, she learned she could proceed no further without contacting a customer service representative to learn what she would need to do to correct the issue.

She placed the call at 4:50 p.m. and was placed into a holding queue until a representative was available.

Her call was answered at 6:50 p.m.

The representative was polite, listened to her problem, and provided her with instructions to follow to provide the agency what it needed to address her concerns (copies of past check stubs and W-2s were required).

She was lucky. Roberson said wait times have averaged as long as six hours for callers.

Multiple efforts to reach a customer service representative by one caller Tuesday morning were unsuccessful, with the caller repeatedly hearing a recorded message instructing for the call to be tried again later.

Issues to be addressed

Roberson said this week the agency is using “a clunky ... old-school program that is 30 years old” to handle an unprecedented number of claims (an unofficial tally puts that number for last week at about 45,000).

While Roberson noted the agency is working on creating a new platform easier to use for both the public and agency officials, she added it won’t be ready for another 18 months.

The advantage for users of the website now, Roberson noted, is that the current system is designed to allow applicants to resume their filing process when they log back in after being timed out.

“We need the phones to be reserved for those who either don’t speak English or do not have access to a computer,” or must obtain customer assistance to successfully complete an online claim, she said.

“I know it is frustrating for everybody,” Roberson said. “But it does work.”

©2020 The Oklahoman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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