Some Oklahomans Express Frustration Over Unemployment Benefits System

Sunday, January 24th 2021, 7:33 am
By: Matt Rahn


New numbers from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission show Oklahomans have received nearly $4 billion in unemployment benefits since the pandemic began last March. But many are still waiting to get help.

One woman in Tulsa says she's been waiting months for her claim to be processed.

For Janet Gunzenheiser, trying to get answers about an unemployment claim starts with a phone call to OESC. Gunzenheiser is all too familiar with this process. She's been looking for answers about her claim since October when she first filed for unemployment.

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"Now, several months later, I still have never gotten an unemployment payment and when you call, you have to wait on hold for about two hours," said Gunzenheiser.

She says there were issues with her claim from the beginning when they couldn't find her name in the system, even though Gunzenheiser has been her last name for more than 10 years. She thinks confusion over that likely lead her to where she is now, with her claim in adjudication. That means it has to be looked over by a professional before it can move forward.

For Janet, the process is taking too long. 

"For so long I thought I'll just be patient, I've got savings I can handle this, but now I'm getting to the point where next month I'll probably be really hurting," Gunzenheiser said.

Gunzenheiser says she's glad to have some savings, but those are dwindling quickly, and she hopes to find a job fast because she's losing hope on getting help from the unemployment system."

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OESC Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt says she understands the frustration. She says they are working hard to improve an outdated system that's never been so strained.

"As long as the agency is operating with a 40-year-old mainframe, we are basically keeping that system together with baling wire and bubble gum tape," said Zumwalt.

She says they are beginning an 18-month process to move off that old system and automate things that are still done manually. She says she knows navigating unemployment can be confusing, but it's important to do your own research before you apply.

"I always tell people, be your own advocate. Be your best advocate, know what your benefits are, know what you're entitled to," said Zumwalt.

For Janet Gunzenheiser, she just hopes that what she's entitled to come sooner rather than later.