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System Launch Mostly Smooth, Oregon Employment Dept. Says

The department went live Monday with Frances Online, a claims processing solution replacing a COBOL-based legacy system. Officials acknowledged some callers have experienced long hold times but said the replacement is “working well” for most.

The Oregon Employment Department says the launch of its new computer system this week “has been relatively smooth,” but the agency acknowledged callers are still spending long periods of time on hold when they have issues with their claims.

“We know from what we’re seeing that for most people the system is working well,” said David Gerstenfeld, the employment department’s director, on a media call Wednesday.

Oregon’s unemployment rate was at historic lows for much of 2023 but started climbing late in the year. It hit 4.1 percent in January, the highest level since 2022. There could be more jobless claims coming in the weeks ahead, with major Oregon employers including Nike and UPS planning large layoffs.

The employment department’s obsolete computer system, which dates to the 1990s, slowed claims processing for years. The issue was particularly severe during the pandemic, when Oregon’s jobless rate hit a record high.

On Monday, the employment department launched a new $106 million computer system called Frances Online, for processing claims. The agency says the new system will be more user-friendly and adaptable, to respond to issues people have filing claims or new benefits programs.

The employment department said it received more than 23,000 claims in the first two days the system was online, on par with its forecasts. It paid out $8.1 million in claims.

Some claimants have run into issues setting up accounts on Frances Online, according to the employment department. It advises them to start over when that happens, using information from any existing claims when the computers ask them to verify their identity.

Claims processing had slowed in the months before the new system launched and customers were spending longer on hold. Hold times remain long, said Lindsi Leahy, director of the department’s unemployment insurance division.

“Our wait times are definitely longer than we would like them to be in all of our customer service channels,” Leahy said. The employment department didn’t have data yet on how long callers are waiting on hold this week.

The agency brought on 40 temporary employees to prepare for additional calls associated with the new computer system. Leahy said the agency hopes to hire 10 more.

Also Wednesday, the Legislature voted to authorize the employment department to divert $45 million in payments that previously had been directed to Oregon’s unemployment insurance trust fund. The money will instead go to hire more staff to administer benefits programs.

The employment department says House Bill 4035, which now awaits the governor’s signature, will help offset a decline in pandemic-era federal funding and improve the agency’s customer service.

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