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Central Oregonians struggle to file for unemployment benefits

Spike in claims means long wait times on phone, online challenges as well

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Several Central Oregonians told NewsChannel 21 Monday they have been having frustrating problems getting through to file for unemployment benefits, either online or by phone.

A Bend woman who declined to be identified said her daughter works as a pizza delivery driver in Bend. She said her daughter’s management cut her hours by two-thirds as a result of the drop in business due to the coronavirus outbreak and ordered closing of dine-in restaurant service.

The woman said they tried calling the state Employment Department and were on hold for about four hours.

Meanwhile, Clinton Cooper of Bend, recently laid off from a landscaping job, also expressed concerns about being unable to communicate with unemployment representatives or file his claim online.

“I called every single office phone number I could get a hold of in the entire state, and it says busy, busy, busy,” Cooper said. 

Cooper currently stays at the Three Sisters Inn and Suites in Bend with his girlfriend.

“We have a little bit of food and a little bit of money,” Cooper said. “So my biggest fear is being on the street, and then what do you do?”

Josh Behrens, who lives in northeast Bend, said he is one of several restaurant workers who have been “temporarily” laid off. He called the unemployment agency 32 times on Monday, but like Cooper, was unable to reach anyone.

“I’ve submitted a claim online, and now it’s on pause, being that I moved away for a year and a half and I don’t hit that 18-month period where you have to be living in the state of Oregon,” Behrens said.

Behrens said he fortunately has plenty of work on the side to keep him busy, such as helping friends and elderly people in the community. However, he said the unemployment benefits would be helpful financially.

“If you have enough income, keep calling, I guess,” he said. “I didn’t have much luck today, but I’ll try again tomorrow. Maybe I’ll call 50 times instead of 30.”

Gail Krumenauer with the Oregon Employment Department said people calling multiple times in a day might be contributing to the backlog.

“One of the things we’re seeing is with the phone lines, people are getting that fast busy signal or long wait times,” Krumenauer said. “Some people are dialing over and over again, so that repeated simultaneous calling into our unemployment insurance line jams the phone line in a way that actually fewer people can get through.”

People are also concerned about how long it will take for funds to arrive, given how the coronavirus pandemic is changing workflow and society’s day-to-day life as a whole.

“No, life’s not about money, but unfortunately our society’s built around money,” Cooper said. “They’re saying, ‘wash your hands,’ ‘take showers.’ Well, you have to have a home, you have to have soap, you have to have shampoo. This is a health issue going on.”

Krumenauer said along with the spike in jobless claims filing, the department is constantly having to adapt quickly to new guidelines set by the federal and state governments.

She said she doesn't know how long people should expect to wait to receive their benefits, but they have doubled and are working on tripling the staff to meet the increasing demand.

"We have been encouraging everyone who can to file online," Krumenauer said. "We can process more volume online, and filing online is a way those affected by layoffs and having their hours cut back can help each other get through on the phones." 

For more information about filing for unemployment benefits, visit the Oregon Employment Department website. For information regarding COVID-19-related business layoffs and closures, visit this link. WorkSource Bend is open and providing services by appointment only. To schedule an appointment, call their number at (541) 388-6070. 

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Rhea Panela

Rhea Panela is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Rhea here.


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