Oregon Employment Department Settled a Lawsuit Over Unemployment Benefit Delays

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Oregon Employment Department Settled a Lawsuit Over Unemployment Benefit Delays
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The Oregon Employment Department recently settled a class action lawsuit over unemployment benefit delays which left thousands of Oregon residents unable to pay their bills.

In July of 2020, the State of Oregon was hit with a class action lawsuit over long and largely unexplained delays between finishing the unemployment application and receiving benefits; this left many applicants unable to pay rent as well as purchase food and other necessities. A consistently heavy call volume and claims backlog made it virtually impossible for applicants to contact the Oregon Employment Department with questions about their claims. Additionally, the web-based application was described as “confusing” and “antiquated”, in the original petition for action, leaving some people entirely unable to finish their application in the first place.

The proposed settlement is unique as it focuses on department policy changes more than monetary compensation.

The settlement terms offered by the Oregon Employment Department were specifically compiled to address each of the significant concerns presented by plaintiffs in the lawsuit. These concerns were echoed by many of the Oregon residents who applied for unemployment benefits and were either rejected, delayed, or simply never heard back. Issues of timeliness in receiving benefits and language barriers in the application process were particularly under criticism, and are explicitly addressed in the Department's settlement.

Some terms of the official proposed settlement include:

The Oregon Employment Department shall be in substantial compliance with the federal first payment timeliness requirements by March 1, 2021.
The Oregon Employment Department shall be in substantial compliance with the federal non-monetary adjudication timeliness by April 1, 2021.
The Oregon Employment Department will complete the initial processing of 80% of initial benefit claims for UI, and 80% of initial benefits claims filed on or before December 26, 2020 for PUA, within 21 days of the claim being filed.
By March 1, 2021, The Oregon Employment Department will have issued a decision or payment on all issues within the Focus Adjudication Group.
The Oregon Employment Department shall provide Oregon Law Center with monthly reports reflecting the status of UI and PUA claims.
The Oregon Employment Department will make its regular UI initial claim application available in Spanish on the current Online Claim System.
The Oregon Employment Department will make online applications for UI and PUA available in a minimum of ten languages, to be determined by its language assessment process and through its modernization project.

The Oregon Employment Department cited the overwhelming flood of unemployment applications as the reason for the delays.

The settlement itself does not constitute an admission of liability on the part of the Oregon Employment Department but focuses on the ways the process can be safeguarded against the same problems in the future. According to Oregon Live, the state of Oregon paid out nearly $7.3 billion in 11 months, an amount on par with what the state had previously paid for unemployment over an entire decade. It’s not particularly surprising that the Oregon Employment Department was unequipped to handle the sheer number of applications; if this settlement proposal is approved, it promises an easier application process, better access to non-native speakers, and the dissemination of benefits without lengthy delays for unemployment applicants in the future.

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