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Oregon To Start Handing Out $500 Stimulus Checks for the Unemployed This Week

August 20, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson
Unemployment claims in Pennsylvania surged in wake of the coronavirus, to 120,000 as of March 19. (Elizabeth Robertson/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

SALEM, Ore. – Starting this week, those who are unemployed in the state of Oregon can apply for a one-time $500 stimulus check on a first-come-first-served basis at select financial institutions. As many as 77,000 Oregon residents will be eligible to receive the benefit check. 

The stimulus check stands as a method of ensuring workers who have yet to obtain unemployment benefits from the state receive a lifeline as they wait for incoming benefits. 

 “While we know these limited funds aren’t enough and won’t allow us to help everyone, we felt it was important to try something,” said Oregon’s Democratic House Speaker, Tina Kotek. “After months of hearing from increasingly desperate Oregonians who were doing everything right and still not getting the unemployment they were owed, we hope this effort offers a streamlined way for some financial relief.” 

“The state is stepping up, and I hope Congress will act soon to provide more support that is desperately needed,” continued Kotek. 

An Oregon bipartisan legislative committee unanimously approved the benefits in July in order to help the thousands of workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. 

Oregon legislators wanted to implement the one-time payment program immediately after receiving approval, however legislators experienced a delay in the program rollout after Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services warned that establishing procedures of payments could take weeks and mechanisms of preventing fraud would need to be created before the program’s rollout. 

After following the guidance of the state’s Department of Administrative Services, the program began this week.

To prevent widespread fraud, Oregon lawmakers created a set of criteria that must be met by those seeking the stimulus check. 

The criteria, outlined on emergencychecks.oregon.gov, stipulates that Oregon residents must apply for the unemployment benefit in person at a participating location associated with a financial institution partnering with the state. Residents must have proof of identity and bring a filled-out application to the bank. 

Additionally, those applying must have had a monthly pre-tax income of $4,000 or less before becoming unemployed. 

For those who have previously received unemployment benefits the requirement is, applicants may not be current on their unemployment benefits, meaning they have not received all of their claimed benefits. 

The $500 stimulus check funding is part of the $35 million in federal relief funds Oregon received in March. 

The stimulus checks come after Oregon’s Employment Department experienced criticism for its alleged inefficient handling of unemployment claims in the past. 

At the start of the pandemic, Oregon’s outdated legacy IT system from 1993 could not handle the influx of jobless claims, causing Oregon residents to be left in the dark on their potential to receive benefits. The state’s employment agency plans to update its system fully by 2025 to bring its IT system to modern standards. 

Despite the agency’s initial struggles handling jobless claims, it has increased its staff tenfold and now manages the claims by hand as opposed to relying on outdated technology. 

Oregon’s Employment Department interim director David Gerstenfeld has admitted the agency has experienced immense pressure to serve those in need because of the pandemic. However, Gerstenfeld remains optimistic his department can handle the challenges ahead for the agency. 

“I think that we are in a good place now,” Gerstenfeld said to OregonLive.

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