Even if Congress were to work quickly on extending benefits through the latest pandemic relief package, help wouldn’t continue seamlessly for Oregonians who depend on the support.
That was the conclusion of Oregon Employment Department acting director David Gerstenfeld on Wednesday, 11 days ahead of when 133,000 Oregonians who rely on federal unemployment programs could start seeing their benefits dry up.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see any realistic path where there’s not at least some pause in benefits for some people,” Gerstenfeld said, noting that a final bill hadn’t passed in either the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives.
“Even if that happens really quickly, and even if we didn’t have to wait for any federal guidance, it’s unlikely that all of that work could be updated in our systems and tested, and rolled out without some pause.”
Gerstenfeld didn’t offer specifics in terms of how many people might lose benefits how quickly, but he acknowledged that the longer it takes for Congress to approve the extension, the more people could fall off the “benefits cliff.”
Oregonians and beneficiaries across the country have faced these gaps previously, as Congress has labored to agree on COVID-19 relief, including funding for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, programs. This time, officials feel confident that the extensions will come through soon and won’t bring any significant changes, which should make them relatively simple to implement.
“It is primarily extensions and dollar amount changes, which will certainly minimize the amount of time needed to implement the new changes,” Gerstenfeld said.
It’s now coming up on a full year since the spread of COVID-19 and the regulations it brought started to force businesses to change operations or close, and often lay off workers in the process. Gerstenfeld said that from March 15, 2020, through the beginning of this week, his agency had doled out $7.9 billion in benefits to more than 560,000 Oregonians.