Senate, house GOP call for fix to Employment Dept. fiasco

House and Senate Republicans Call for Targeted Plan of Action to Correct Employment Department Delays of Jobless Benefits
By Oregon Senate & House Republican Caucus,

The Oregon Employment Department’s failure to implement Frances Online has meant Oregonians are without critical jobless benefits for weeks and sometimes months. Today, a group of House and Senate Republicans sent a letter to Governor Kotek urging her administration, in coordination with the Oregon Employment Department, to layout a detailed plan of action – beyond the normal increases to staffing – complete with aggressive increases in agency performance targets at set deadlines, as well as how the agency will achieve them.

“Oregonians pay into unemployment. These are their dollars, and it should be unacceptable to us that a state agency would even have a three-week target of delaying those dollars getting into the hands of those who need them, let alone the several months some are forced to wait,” said Representative Jami Cate (R-Lebanon).

“As inflation continues to send prices soaring, struggling families on unemployment have been left in the lurch by their state government. This is unacceptable. The administration must correct these delays immediately so that people dependent on these resources to survive can get them,” said Representative Jeff Helfrich (R-Hood River).

The letter reads as follows:

Dear Governor Kotek,

In the digital age, government agencies have increasingly relied on online platforms to improve the efficient delivery of services to citizens, making the continued challenges of the Oregon Employment Department (OED) to implement Frances Online a source of stark frustration to Oregonians. Frances Online was billed as an opportunity to streamline unemployment claims, enhance user experience, reduce processing times, and minimize errors. The unfortunate reality is that the OED is continuing to fail our citizens when they need these funds the most.

To many of us in the Legislature, it seems as though state agencies continue to grow and multiply. Time and again, agency failures are met with increased budgets and additional FTE. While the expansion of government services can be necessary to meet peoples’ needs in times of crisis, the lack of identifying the catalysts for breakdowns in efficiency and instilling the accountability necessary to get agencies back on track, raises serious doubts about how citizens’ hard-earned dollars are being spent – as is the case with the Employment Department.

Oregonians deserve assurance that their contributions to a state-run program meant to sustain them during a period of job loss will do just that. But today, federal data shows nearly a third of unemployed residents are forced to wait at least three weeks to get their jobless benefits paid. This staggering figure indicates a steep decline in timely payments, which is a troubling downward trend that began a year ago. In extreme cases, our offices have heard from constituents that have waited several months since filing claims to receive payments.

The Oregon Employment Department’s failure to process claims in a timely manner has profound and immediate impacts on the financial hardship of workers across the state as they face economic uncertainty due to periods of job loss. Even the OED’s stated goal of processing claims in three weeks puts citizens at an increased risk of utility shutoffs, food insecurity, and houselessness. With soaring inflation and housing costs, too many Oregonians are forced to live paycheck to paycheck and disrupting that tenuous balance by delaying their benefit claims by even three weeks can be too much for them to bear while supporting their families. We see this in our inboxes from constituents every single day.

These processing failures also extend beyond individual hardships. Public trust in our government institutions is essential for fostering cooperation and civic engagement. The failure to deliver on promises of an efficient service provision erodes this trust, casting doubt on the OED’s competence and accountability. In a time of increasing state agency turmoil, it is critically important that OED, in coordination with the Governor’s office, face these issues head-on—taking fast and effective steps to correct them.

We implore you to prioritize restoring the public’s trust in the OED by publicly releasing a detailed plan of action—beyond the normal increases to staffing—complete with aggressive increases in agency performance targets at set deadlines, as well as how the agency will achieve them. The backlog of cases at the department must be cleared, and a better strategy for communicating with claimants implemented. Oregonians need to see a shift in ethos in our state agencies, with a restoration of putting customer service first from every level of leadership. Citizens need to see true transparency in delivering results of equitable access to unemployment benefits, and an upholding of the OED’s mandate of supporting Oregon’s workforce.

We appreciate your attention to this urgent matter of improving such a vital state agency and look forward to your response.