It took a pandemic, but the agency in charge of managing unemployment insurance has extended the period one can receive regular unemployment benefits by 13 weeks.
The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission on Monday announced the State Extended Benefits program as a means to help those who continue to be out of work.
“This extraordinary time has triggered this benefit for the first time in almost 40 years,” said OESC Interim Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt, in a written statement. “The pandemic has caused continued unemployment for many Oklahomans above and beyond what is traditionally outlined by the Oklahoma Employment Security Act. We will continue to work with claimants to ensure they’re able to access benefits and answer any questions.”
The move means those who have maxed out their state benefits may now continue to receive regular state unemployment benefits for up to an additional 13 weeks. Traditionally, those out-of-work may claim unemployment insurance benefits for up to 26 weeks per year.
State law permits extending the regular benefit period when certain unemployment rate triggers are met.
The state unemployment rate was 6.6% in June after peaking in April at 13.7%. The unemployment rate in May was 12.6%.
An estimated 116,602 were considered out of work in June.
The agency has experienced record-setting or higher-than-average unemployment claims for the past 18 to 19 weeks. The agency could not immediately say how many workers have already received the maximum amount of unemployment benefits.
The extended benefits come as a weekly $600 payment from the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program expired last week. Congress had not agreed on whether to extend the federal program.
To qualify for the SEB program, workers must exhaust regular state unemployment insurance and the CARES Act extension.
The CARES Act includes a provision under federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation to extend unemployment insurance an extra 13 weeks.
SEB is only available for individuals who were eligible for regular state unemployment insurance claims. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for self-employed and so-called gig workers, are not eligible for SEB.
“The state’s Unemployment Trust Fund, paid into by Oklahoma employers, pays benefits to individuals receiving regular UI benefits,” Zumwalt said. “Because of this, SEB will not be available for self-employed, contract, and gig workers utilizing the federally-funded PUA program.”
In most cases, unemployment claims will automatically change from PEUC to SEB. If a claim’s benefit year ends while receiving PEUC or SEB, a new regular unemployment insurance claim must be established.
Some may not receive the maximum 13 weeks of benefits as the SEB maximum entitlement is based on the lesser of three calculations.
Assistance can be found at OESC’s 27 regional offices, which are continuing to see claimants in person — with masks required and social distancing in effect. Regional office staff also can assist claimants over the phone via their local office number. Click here to see all American Job Center locations in the state.
Q&A: Filing unemployment claims amid virus-related job losses
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