SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – The Oregon Employment Department and Oregon Law Center announced Wednesday that they have proposed a settlement in a class action lawsuit for late payment of unemployment benefits.
The lawsuit, filed by 14 Oregonians waiting weeks or months for unemployment benefits, aimed to resolve issues related to timeliness issues and language barriers faced by Oregonians applying for unemployment benefits through the labor exchange.
“Both parties want to avoid unnecessary litigation and instead work together to improve the Department of Labor’s timeliness in caring for unemployed Oregonians.” said the agency’s announcement, which continues below in full:
“I am pleased that we are one step closer to finalizing this settlement,” said David Gerstenfeld, acting director of the Oregon Employment Department. “Our priority has always been to help Oregonians in need and to pay everyone the benefits they are entitled to as soon as possible.
“We have made significant strides since the pandemic started, improving our communications with applicants, providing more services and resources in languages other than English, processing applications faster and closing our backlog. We are determined to do the right thing.” Oregonians rely on us, achieve the goals set out in the proposed agreement, and are transparent about our progress along the way. “
Lisa Exterovich, a single mother who lost her job due to the pandemic, is one of the named petitioners.
“After I lost my job, I filed for unemployment. I waited months for benefits to start without knowing what was happening – I couldn’t pay rent and I was really worried about how this would affect my daughter and me I chose to join the lawsuit to stand up for myself and other people with similar stories, “she said.
Exterovich said she supported the deal because “the labor department is committed to paying people’s benefits faster, improving communication with those seeking benefits, and helping people who don’t speak English.”
As part of the settlement, the employment office has committed to meet specific timeliness goals and provide services for Oregoners with limited English proficiency (LEP). In addition to the increase in staff and training in order to be able to process UI, PUA and other applications more quickly, and the expansion of the service options for LEP people, the work department has approved:
- Meet the federal punctuality targets for the payment of benefits by March 1st, 2021 and for the decision of claims by April 1st, 2021.
- Complete processing of all legally binding claims from mid-January to March 1, 2021;
- Address long waits for people who have had to restart their claims.
- Improving telephone access and access to benefit claims for LEP persons;
- Allow eligible LEP individuals unable to claim unemployment benefit due to language barriers to backdate their claims to the extent permitted by law and develop a plan of action to address this issue.
In addition, the agreement allows for more time in certain circumstances (for example, if there are problems verifying an applicant’s identity).
The full text of the proposed comparison and answers to frequently asked questions can be found at oregonlawcenter.org/oed-class-action-lawsuit/.
For more information on unemployment benefits, see unemployment.oregon.gov.
Gerstenfeld also published this update on Wednesday on related topics:
Pandemic unemployment assistance
We would like to highlight three topics:
- Some PUA claims expire because our unemployment insurance system is designed to pay claims for one year. Even with an expired PUA entitlement, people will still be entitled to up to 11 additional weeks of PUA provided by the Federal Continued Assistance Act (CAA).
○ We are working on paying these PUA benefits retrospectively along with the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits. It is important that you file a PUA filing every week, even if you can see in the online claims system that your claim has expired.
○ We want users to know that they will be receiving PUA benefits in a timely manner of the week their entitlement expires. However, future benefits will be delayed until our system programming is complete. We have already started this as this is our top priority.
○ You can find out when your PUA claim will expire by logging into the online claims system and clicking “Time and Money to Claim”.
2. We know that switching back and forth between different benefit programs can be confusing for many people. That is why we have actively approached applicants. Unfortunately, approximately 1,400 people claimed the week ended January 30th under PUA. We emailed them this morning and sent them a social media update letting them know they need to re-submit their weekly entitlement using the “Regular Weekly UI Entitlement” option as their PUA Benefits have been discontinued and PEUC benefits are available to them.
- The Continued Assistance Act (CAA) passed by Congress provides up to 11 additional weeks of pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) benefits. We have received new guidance from the US Department of Labor to demonstrate this everyone in the PUA program is entitled to an additional 11 weeks of benefits.
○ With the CAA, we can only start paying for CAA services after December 27, 2020.
○ Although PUA is limited to 50 weeks due to the high advanced benefits, some people receive PUA benefits for more than 50 weeks and others less. We have created a page on our website that will help users understand how these benefits work.
○ A PEUC and PUA exit period is mentioned on the website, which is located in the CAA. Although PUA and PEUC benefits expire after the week ending March 13, 2021, some people receiving PUA and PEUC may receive benefits in the week ending April 10. We’ll talk more about this in March. People can be considered for the phase-out if:
■ You will receive a benefit payment for the week ending March 13th AND
■ The person’s PEUC / PUA entitlement still has weeks
2021 wage tax relief for employers
● We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit some businesses across Oregon hard. OED is taking additional measures in 2021 to help employers by offering UI wage tax relief in 2021.
● Taxes covering the 2021 calendar year for some employers may not incur any penalties or interest. You can find the employer’s requirements in our data sheet on UI income tax.
● This wage tax relief continues the efforts we began in 2020 when we used our existing authority to provide relief to companies affected by the pandemic.
● Visit our UI Payroll Taxes website for frequently asked questions (FAQs on the UI Trust Fund and Employer’s Income Tax, datasheets and additional information.
● Our next unemployment webinar is scheduled for Thursday, February 11th at 1:00 pm. We’re going to talk about CAA updates, including the PUA clarifications mentioned in this statement.
Acting Director David Gerstenfeld testified before legislative committees this week, providing background information on SB 495 and SB 496.
● We presented our budget requests for the next biennium and determined that our priorities are:
○ We continue to improve how quickly we can bring benefits to people.
○ Increasing focus on helping workers find new jobs and companies find work as we move closer to recovery from the recession.
○ modernization of our technology,
○ Create the PFMLI program and
○ Provide reliable data and analysis on the workforce and the labor market to inform policy makers and others
● Senate bill 495
○ Special provisions apply to UI benefits for people who work for educational institutions. In general, this means that people who work for them cannot receive benefits during the school holidays if after a break they are likely to do the same type of work as before.
○ These are very technical state and federal laws. They make a distinction between those who do what federal law calls “professional” work and everything else. States are required to apply these types of rules to those who do professional work but have more leeway for those who do other types of work. “Professional” means people who do teaching, research, or general administrative work.
○ Federal law requires that we look at the type of work being done, not the job title or licensing requirements.
○ We have asked the US Department of Labor for a preliminary ruling on this law, but we haven’t received a response yet. Although SB 495 contains a “savings clause” that says that if the US Department of Labor tell us that federal law bans them, the provisions will mean that “on the books” laws will have no effect. This is an important point as leaving the language in place can confuse the public when trying to figure out how laws apply to them.
● Senate Act 496
○ This bill also addresses the specific UI laws for educational staff. It contains an exception for services provided as an employee of a federal Head Start program. We believe this would be against federal requirements. We have asked the US Department of Labor for a preliminary ruling on this bill, but we haven’t received a response yet. Previous formal US Department of Labor guidance on these issues makes it clear that under certain circumstances states are required to apply school worker laws to Head Start employees. While school staff laws generally do not apply to Head Start employees, they are required to do so in certain circumstances.
○ Previous US Department of Labor guidelines also make it clear that exemptions from school worker laws must be based on certain factors – most importantly, when the work was done and the type of service provided. It is not permissible to distinguish who the employer is, whether it is a private school or a public school where the employer is located, and many other variables.
○ A provision in this invoice increases benefit payments to those who perform food preparation and service work for educational institutions during the school holidays. Most education employers do not pay UI taxes, but instead reimburse the UI Trust Fund dollar for dollar of all benefits paid. Most of the benefit increase paid through this bill would be returned to the UI Trust Fund by employers in the education sector.
○ We are working on estimates for this invoice. Very rough preliminary estimates show that this will cost education employers about $ 1.6 million annually.