By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Bladine: Feds on brink of stimulus decisions

Congress dawdled as this week’s expiration of federal unemployment benefits loomed. Closed-door deliberations brought them to the brink of that July 25 deadline, and at press time major proposals were being leaked in preparation for full public debate.

Whatchamacolumn

Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

Senate Republic leaders on Wednesday cited tentative agreement with the Trump administration for distribution of a second round of stimulus checks to all Americans. That agreement reportedly includes major funding for schools and for COVID-19 virus testing.

No such agreement was reported on federal unemployment benefits. Will the $600 weekly federal benefit be extended? Will it be reduced, modified by new formulas, temporarily set aside?

Congressional leaders were poised to release several bills on Thursday, too late for reporting here. But whatever those bills, and whatever the resulting debate, one thing is sure: The managing of state and federal unemployment benefits ranks as one of Oregon’s most egregious government failures in memory.

It began years ago when officials foolishly set aside federal funding to update antiquated computer systems in the Oregon Department of Employment. For later. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit ODE with a tsunami of unemployment claims, and the resulting financial crisis continues for Oregon workers and employers.

Initial months of indecision and delay led to the firing of ODE’s director. Subsequent catch-up efforts finally improved services to employees on regular unemployment programs, but lengthy delays have returned for those on the state Work Share program.

We know people who have gone 8-12 weeks without receiving Work Share benefits. And if new federal laws throw more wrinkles into the mix, prepare for more confusion, chaos and delays.

Oregon Work Share provides benefits to employees who remain on company payrolls with 20-to-40 percent reductions in hours. Combined with federal unemployment benefits – even at well below $600 weekly – Work Share can maintain normal pay levels for people losing 1-2 work days weekly.

Business productivity suffers, of course. But keeping a valued employee base with significant payroll cost reductions can be the difference in business survival.

Legislators, other government officials and business associations have shown little understanding of the challenges faced by employers and employees. Some tried to intervene, unsuccessfully; some gave up after being unable to access ODE officials for details about programs, policies and benefits; some simply ignored the unemployment problems.

Congressional action, or inaction, will determine the next chapter of this saga.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

Comments

@@pager@@
Web Design and Web Development by Buildable