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Gov. Brown fires Employment Dept. director over massive claims backlog

Oregon Employment Department
Oregon Employment Dept.

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Gov. Kate Brown said Sunday she has fired the director of the Oregon Employment Department, which has been under fire in recent months due to its inability to clear a massive backlog of COVID-19-related unemployment benefit claims.

Here's the governor's full statement:

Governor Kate Brown Replaces Director of Oregon Employment Department

David Gerstenfeld will lead Department to clear backlog of unemployment insurance claims  

(Salem, OR) -- Governor Kate Brown announced today that she asked for and has received the resignation of Oregon Employment Department Director Kay Erickson. Effective immediately, David Gerstenfeld, Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Division Director, will serve as interim Director of the Department.

“In the middle of this pandemic, the continued delays from the Oregon Employment Department in delivering unemployment insurance benefits to thousands of out-of-work Oregonians are unacceptable,” said Governor Brown. “This is an unprecedented crisis, and the problems at the department demand an urgent response. I’d like to thank Director Erickson for her years of service to the State of Oregon, but it is clear that new leadership is needed.”

“I have directed the Oregon Employment Department to address the current backlog in unpaid claims, and to clearly communicate the status of any unpaid claims to Oregonians,” said Governor Brown. “In these incredibly stressful times, Oregon families are counting on these benefits. We will make this right. Oregonians will receive the benefits that they are owed.”

Gerstenfeld has served as the Paid Family and Medical Leave Division Director in the Department since September of 2019. Prior to that, he had served as Unemployment Insurance Division Director since 2011. He has worked for the State of Oregon since 1997, and received a law degree from Lewis and Clark.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had called on Saturday for Erickson's resignation, noting that some 200,000 Oregonians were still waiting for benefits, amid inability to get through to the agency for answers.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had called on Saturday for Erickson's resignation, noting recent estimates that some 200,000 Oregonians were still waiting for benefits, amid an inability by so many to get through to the agency for answers.

"Simply put, this litany of incompetence and unresponsiveness has hit the breaking point," Wyden said.

Wyden said in two tweets Sunday that the announcement of new leadership "provides a much-needed opportunity to get countless unemployed Oregonians the urgent help they are counting on during this economic and public health crisis.

"Now it's critical to take every step possible toward quickly ensuring all Oregonians thrown out of work through no fault of their own get the unemployment benefits they need to weather this storm," he said.

Article Topic Follows: Oregon-Northwest

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