(Update: Adding video, Bend man's comments)
SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Oregon Employment Department said it began issuing Lost Wages Assistance funds Wednesday to qualifying Oregonians who were receiving PUA benefits or who self-certified that they received unemployment benefits for COVID-19-related reasons.
LWA is a temporary emergency measure funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that gives an additional $300 per week to people out of work due to COVID-19 and who receive unemployment benefits. So far, $225 million in LWA payments has been issued to 147,900 Oregonians.
"I was wondering why it didn't get distributed earlier," Bend resident Dennis Monroe Jr. said of the news.
The former ultrasound/X-ray inspector was furloughed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic by Bend's Epic Aircraft.
Monroe said he has been on the lookout for a new job opportunity since the spring, but he's still dependent on unemployment benefits to keep him afloat.
So who is eligible?
The OED says Oregonians automatically qualify for this program if they:
Received unemployment benefits from July 26, 2020, throughout Sept. 5, 2020.
Self-certify that they were unemployed or partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by COVID-19.
This will require a new step for claimants currently receiving regular unemployment benefits, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Benefits, (PEUC) and Extended Benefits (EB).
Monroe said this year is unlike anything he's ever seen.
"This is the first time I've ever experienced something like this," he said. "This is the first time I've been significantly out of a job since I graduated high school."
Monroe said the social distancing regulations have made it more difficult to interview for jobs in-person, but he's confident he can find a job.
"I've been running on a shoestring since this whole COVID-19 thing started, and these extra funds are going to help," he said.
The acting director of the Oregon Employment Department, David Gerstenfeld, addressed the additional funds.
“I am pleased to announce that Oregonians will soon receive their LWA payments," Gerstenfeld said. We appreciate their patience, especially as these past few weeks have been incredibly stressful."
“Our employees know how critical these benefits are to Oregonians, and the impact these funds will have on local communities. I commend our staff for their dedication to making this happen on-time while keeping other priority projects on track,” he said.
LWA payments for all currently eligible Oregonians will be issued immediately. Claimants will receive individual $300 payments for each week they are eligible, via their current method of payment. Claimants with electronic deposit (direct deposit or ReliaCard) should see funds in their account within three business days.
Following this initial release of payments, benefits will be issued to newly eligible claimants on a daily basis until LWA funds run out.
Eligible claimants who have not yet certified can still do so. There is no cut-off date for self-certification; however, since funds are limited, the Employment Department encourages claimants who have not certified to do so immediately.
Claimants receiving regular unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and Extended Benefits (EB) can self-certify for LWA using the Online Claim System. Individuals receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) do not need to certify because they certified when first applying for PUA benefits.
LWA was retroactive to eligible claimants for weeks ending:
- August 1, 2020
- August 8, 2020
- August 15, 2020
- August 22, 2020
- August 29, 2020
- September 5, 2020
LWA payments are taxable under federal law, just like regular unemployment insurance (UI) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits. If taxes are withheld from other benefits, they will also be withheld from the LWA benefits.
Equal Opportunity program — auxiliary aids and services available upon request to individuals with disabilities. Contact: (503) 947-1794. For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, call 711 Telecommunications Relay Services.