Skip to Content

‘It’s devastating:’ Jobless C. Oregonians still struggling with long wait times, inability to receive benefits

(Update: adding video comments by frustrated jobless benefits-seekers)

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Oregon Employment Department said last week it was in its ninth week of using Frances Online for Unemployment Insurance benefits. In that time, the new system has paid out $111.3 million in benefits, and there has been a significant increase in customers successfully using Frances Online. 

But not for everyone, as we have heard from Central Oregonians having serious problems with the stem.

"I feel hopeless," Julie Sawicki said Monday. "I don't know what to do. I have nothing without them releasing that money."

Sawicki is one of many struggling to receive unemployment, three months after her initial claim was filed. She says she's followed all the necessary steps, but her claims are still under review, limiting her means to find employment.

"I'm hoping that they'll release the $3,000 they're sitting on for the last three months," Sawicki said. "You know, with that money, I would be able to get a rental. I would be able to have gas to get to an interview."

Sawicki says she's tried contacting the Employment department but has been left on hold for upwards of six hours at a time, even being hung up on

"I can't get any help," she said. "I've even written a senator. I've written the governor. I have done everything. I have no home, no way to pay my bills."

The Oregon Employment Department says the main issues are customers inability to get through to a representative and the length of time it’s taking to review and approve cases

OED Communications Officer Seth Gordon said these were issues prior to the Frances Online program, and are mostly due to staffing shortages.  

Lorie Wymore, another frustrated Frances Online user, told us, "If they're shorthanded, I'll go to work for them. They could put me in a position at home, online or something. I would be more than glad to answer the phone."

Wymore has never filed for unemployment previously, and has been waiting on her claim to be processed and benefits to arrive for nearly two months. 

Similar to Sawicki, Wymore said she has also completed the required steps, and has even made hundreds of calls - sometimes sitting on hold for upwards of seven hours.

"Nobody ever bothers to come back to you," she said. "It's like you're just put on hold to be forgotten about." 

While the Employment Department does acknowledge these issues, they point to having paid out over $110 million in benefits over the last nine weeks. 

In order to receive benefits ,individuals must file weekly claims, and are required to look for work and document their search.

Wymore says she's applied for over 100 jobs.

"I don't want to give up," she said. "I'm not a person who gives up, but boy, am I almost ready to throw the towel in, you know? It's very frustrating. It's devastating."

NewsChannel 21 reached out Monday to the Oregon Employment Department, but no one was available for an interview.

It's hosting its monthly briefing Wednesday to discuss what it's doing to improve customer service. 

Through House Bill 4035, the department says it's getting funding to allow for the creation of 72 more positions.

Here's the rest of their May 1 media update on efforts to resolve issues and make improvements:

For example, the number of timely weekly claims has leveled out to roughly 30,000 for each of the past six weeks. This aligns with seasonal trends for this time of year and demonstrates that most customers have acclimated to the new system. 

The percentage of people who are using Frances Online to file their claim has also risen steadily since launch, from 81.1 percent in the first week to 93.8 percent last week. This shows that more and more people are learning how to file their claims online with each passing week.

The new technology is working as intended and is proving to be more secure and much more flexible. It also provides more self-service opportunities than the legacy systems.

While, as with any major new system, there are adjustments to be made, the department can see more clearly where people have challenges using the system than we could in our legacy ones. Program leaders have already made many changes and continue to make things easier and more efficient for the public so people who are eligible can get their benefits more quickly.

The challenges
While the new technology is working, some customers are frustrated because they haven’t been able to get through to the department and the length of time it’s taking the UI program to review and approve (or deny) some UI claims. Unfortunately, both challenges were present before the rollout of Frances for UI benefits and still exist today. 

“We know people are already facing difficult situations with the loss of employment, and we know that waiting any amount of time is difficult,” said Employment Department Director David Gerstenfeld. “We also acknowledge that it is especially frustrating when they can’t get through to us on the phone or have to wait on hold for long periods when they do. While more people are using the new system successfully, and we are handling many people’s claims quickly, we know this is no consolation to those who are having to wait.”

The Oregon Employment Department is committed to providing the best customer service possible, and there are two main things needed to do that.

  • The first is having the right tools. Frances Online provides the necessary flexibility and improvements over the legacy systems.
  • The second is having enough employees to do the work. The department’s staffing levels remain low compared to its workload because of chronic federal underfunding.

Here is what the Employment Department is doing to address these challenges.

Hiring push

  • Unemployment Insurance
    • Thanks to support from the Oregon Legislature and the Governor, House Bill 4035 (2024) will provide some much-needed administrative funding for 72 positions. Some of these positions are already filled on a temporary basis, and the funding will make them permanent.
    • Currently there are 409 employees in the UI program. The department’s goal is to reach 476 and to realize increased productivity and improved customer service in mid-to-late-August.
  • Paid Leave Oregon currently has 311 employees, and the program expects to have about 365 by the end of June.

Other staffing-related approaches

Because it will take time to feel the customer service gains from HB 4035 (2024), the Employment Department is doing many things in the meantime to help customer service. Some of these will be long-term adjustments, while others are only intended as short-term measures as the department works to hire and train more employees in the coming months. These include:

  • Overtime
    • Dedicated UI employees have been working an average of 400 hours of overtime per week. This will increase to 600 hours or more per week.
    • Staff from other parts of the agency who have the right skills will help with UI work, including adjudication, processing claims, and responding to claimant inquiries. The goal is to reach at least 320 hours of additional overtime per week.  
  • Expanding support
    • Employees in the Workforce Operations division will make outgoing calls to UI claimants between serving customers with work search and job skills training.
    • UI managers and team leads will temporarily take on more direct claims work themselves.

Operational changes underway

In addition to adding more workers and opportunities for overtime hours, the department is looking at changes to how to do the work.

  • Adjusting workflows – The department is making it easier to resolve some common issues for both our customers and our employees. This includes reducing some redundant mailing to claimants and looking at ways to further improve the user experience based on feedback we are receiving from customers and our employees.
  • Dedicated time – The department is considering ways to dedicate time for staff to focus on resolving issues on claims, which would help them process claims faster, get eligible workers their benefits more quickly, and reduce the number of calls and messages from claimants who simply want to check the status of their claim or benefit payment.
  • Update wording – The department is revising its letters, questionnaires, and online messaging to clarify the claims process more and help the public know what to expect.
  • Provide more detailed claim status information – The department is improving and expanding language in Frances Online to give customers additional detail about why their claim is being reviewed and what, if anything, they need to do.
  • Paid Leave Oregon is improving how it communicates – Using feedback from the first six months of the program, Paid Leave is improving communication with insurance carriers, employers, and health care providers to get needed information more quickly so that people can get their claims approved faster.
  • Update weekly certification follow-up process – UI is making it easier for claimants to tell the program when they have made a mistake answering weekly UI eligibility questions so issues can be resolved more quickly.
  • Adjusting how we handle UI issues that started in our legacy system – UI is changing how it is processing claim issues that originated in our legacy systems and were moved to Frances. This may cause duplicate mailings to some customers, but this will reduce the average time for employees to resolve issues from 9 to 2 days.

Completed operational changes

Here are some improvements the Employment Department has already made to improve customer service: 

  • Updated language and system functionality – Based on customer feedback, the department is continuously adjusting Frances Online to be even more user-friendly. Examples of changes include how people identify their employer in the system; the timing of when some letters are sent to claimants; making it easier to amend already filed claims; and shortening the timeframe employers have to respond, when appropriate, to speed up claim processing.
  • Improved training and employee guidance/resources
  • Created a comprehensive set of resource materials – On the department’s websites, customers who need help with Frances Online can find walk-through guides, videos, and answers to many frequently asked questions (FAQs).
  • Improved the UI identity verification process – UI is giving claimants more time to respond (due to mail delivery delays, some people did not have enough time to respond). The program will soon be able to give more up-front notification that, if they request certain changes to their account, it may require them to re-verify their identity.
  • Improving support for live chat – This option improves the customer experience and allows department employees, as they gain proficiency, to handle more simultaneous online chats to help multiple UI customers at one time.

Demonstrated progress

The Employment Department is already seeing signs of increased efficiencies (which in turn means improving customer service):

  • More than 93% of claimants are using Frances Online to file their weekly claims.
  • Due to staff training, the average time it takes UI employees to handle a call has decreased from 17 minutes to approximately 11 minutes – meaning they can answer more calls.
  • The average number of work items UI employees can complete in Frances Online has also increased significantly – from about 3.3 items per hour on average right after benefits went live in the new system, to 6.8 items per hour.
  • Adjudication process efficiencies – Since Frances Online went live, the average time for employees to resolve an issue on a claim, once they start working it, has decreased from 9 days to 2 days.

Rolling out a new system for Unemployment Insurance and launching Paid Leave Oregon, particularly following the historic strains of the pandemic and then drastic staff losses due to inadequate federal funding, have been major endeavors.

“While we are already seeing major performance improvements, we know it will take more time to further refine the program, which impacts so many workers and employers across the state,” said UI Director Lindsi Leahy, “We know how important the UI program is to Oregonians and that our work is not done. We are committed to continuous improvement and to keeping the public informed on our challenges, opportunities, and progress.”


The Oregon Employment Department (OED) is an equal opportunity agency. OED provides free help so you can use our services. Some examples are sign language and spoken-language interpreters, written materials in other languages, large print, audio, and other formats. To get help, please call 503-947-1794. TTY users call 711. You can also send an email to

Article Topic Follows: Oregon-Northwest

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

Matthew Draxton

Matthew Draxton is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthew here.

KTVZ - News Team


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content