Dozens rally at Oklahoma Capitol over unemployment problems

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
05/21/2020 10:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Jennifer Robertson, a self-employed graphic designer from Norman holds a sign at the state Capitol to protest the lack of unemployment payments for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA, for the self-employed on May 18 in Oklahoma City. SUE OGROCKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Dozens of people rallied at the state Capitol on May 18, complaining that their state unemployment claims aren’t being processed.

Most of those who gathered on the Capitol’s south steps were self-employed and complained of glitches with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission’s website, waiting on hold for hours to talk to an agent and not getting promised call backs.

Pandemic unemployment assistance is “my last resort,” said Charity Snapp, the owner of a Warr Acres salon that was forced to shut down for five weeks. “There is no other hope for me.”

Snapp organized the event after she spent weeks on the phone and online trying to submit a claim to the agency. Even though she was out of work for more than a month, she said she was only able to submit a claim for two days of work, and she’s yet to receive any money.

Oklahoma’s Secretary of Digital Transformation David Ostrowe has acknowledged the agency was initially hindered by outdated technology and an overwhelming number of claims, but says the agency also has also made great progress in recent weeks.

Ostrowe and several agency staffers met with protesters on May 18 to offer onsite assistance, said agency spokeswoman Shelley Zumwalt.

“Each OESC staff member gathered information and listened to the difficulties the protesters are experiencing and is personally looking into each protester’s claim to help resolve their issues,” Zumwalt said.

State Sen. Mary Boren said her office has been inundated with calls and emails of constituents who have not received benefits and have not been able to get through to the OESC to check on their claim.

“It’s beyond frustrating that our citizens, through no fault of their own, had to close their business because of the health crisis yet haven’t received the unemployment benefits they were promised,” said Boren, a Democrat from Norman.

LATEST COVID-19 NUMBERS

Oklahoma health officials reported no new deaths and 88 new positive cases of COVID-19 on May 18, most of them connected to a hog processing plant in Guymon.

The Department of Health said 64% of its new positive cases were in Texas County in the Oklahoma Panhandle, where Seaboard Farms employs about 2,700 workers at the plant.

The department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been working with local health officials to increase testing and contract tracing to contain and mitigate the spread of the virus in the region.

As of May 18, there were nearly 5,400 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma, although the actual number of those infected is thought to be much higher because many people haven’t been tested and studies suggest people can have the disease without showing symptoms. A total of 288 people have died from COVID-19 in Oklahoma, nearly half of whom were residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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