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Oregon secretary of state audit reviews Employment Dept. computer woes, urges more steps

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) — According to an audit report released Wednesday by Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, the sudden and sharp increase in unemployment claims caused by The COVID-19 pandemic has strained an antiquated unemployment system, creating financial difficulties for many. Oregonians whose eligible benefits have been delayed several months or longer.

The findings are outlined in the report titled “The Effects of the Pandemic on Oregon’s Exposed Risks and Emphasize the Need to Modernize Oregon’s Unemployment Insurance System.”

“The goal of a safety net is that it’s there when you need it,” Fagan said. “This audit helps explain why Oregon’s unemployment insurance program is failing when it’s needed and identifies actionable steps the OED can take to ensure that help is always available when people need it. from Oregon.”

Looking back to 2020, the audit found several key factors that led to a breakdown in the Oregon Department of Labor’s systems.

  1. Previous audits in 2012, 2015, and 2020 identified outdated, inefficient, difficult-to-update systems that hindered the agency’s ability to pay benefits promptly, especially already during the economic downturn.
  2. The OED’s telephone-based system was overwhelmed by an unprecedented influx of calls. The agency does not have enough physical phone lines or staff to answer all the additional calls they receive.
  3. The agency must quickly staff and implement several new federal programs created by Congress following business shutdowns due to COVID-19.

The OED addressed some of these deficiencies and had one of the lowest levels of unemployment fraud in 2020. Other areas still need improvement, the audit found.

The audit’s recommendations point to areas where the OED can improve systems ahead of future unemployment surges. The main recommendations include:

  1. Data monitoring to identify claims that have not been reviewed within a specified period.
  2. Use modern IT systems to reduce data errors, use different communication channels including texting, improve systems for uploading documents online and tracking claims online, continue to be able to communicate in languages ​​other than English, etc.
  3. Explore the creation of an ombuds office to help claimants navigate the complexities of the UI system.

“Real people are hurt by these delays,” said Secretary Fagan. “Without an ombuds office, people struggling to navigate a complex system would have no one to advocate for them. Creating an ombuds office is a practical recommendation to fix the gap in services and help build trust in state government Ombuds programs now fill important roles in state government, such as the Office of Small Business Assistance here in the Secretary of State’s office.

Read the full audit on the Secretary of State’s website (

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