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Oregon Begins First Phase of Unemployment System Upgrades

After struggling through the pandemic with an outdated unemployment system from the 1990s, the Oregon Employment Department has started the first phase of a replacement project. The new system won’t go live until 2024.

The Oregon Statehouse
(TNS) — The first phase of the Oregon Employment Department’s long-delayed technology upgrade went live Tuesday.

The initial phase, called Frances Online, only serves employers filing payroll reports. The broader computer upgrade is on schedule but won’t begin serving jobless Oregonians until 2024.

The employment department’s computers date to the 1990s. The obsolete technology is one of the main reasons for the widespread failures Oregon suffered when a record number of claimants sought assistance after the COVID-19 pandemic hit early in 2020.

Oregon received $86 million in federal funds to modernize the employment department’s computer system in 2009, but the vast majority of that money went unspent for more than a decade amid a cascading series of leadership failures in the department.

Oregon finally picked a Colorado company, Fast Enterprises, to begin the upgrade late in 2020. The employment department initially budgeted between $80 million and $123 million for the work; it now estimates the total cost at $106 million.

The department said the first phase online Tuesday enables employers to file and amend payroll reports online, find their tax rate and send and receive messages.

The same technology will enable employers to begin paying into the state’s new family leave program in January, and support family leave benefits applications next September.

Oregon plans to shift jobless benefits claims to the new technology in March 2024.

The system’s name, Frances Online, is a tribute to Frances Perkins, who served as secretary of labor during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. The employment department says Perkins, the first female member of a presidential cabinet, was instrumental in establishing unemployment insurance in the U.S.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.