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Public assistance could keep afloat families waiting for unemployment benefits

News Release
May 12, 2020

With tens of thousands of laid-off Oregonians still waiting for their first Unemployment Insurance (UI) check, advocates are calling on the state to encourage unemployed workers to also apply for other forms of public assistance that can tide them over until UI benefits arrive.

“The risk of hunger and extreme hardship is very real for many workers who have suddenly lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Janet Bauer. “The state needs to use all available tools to help them through this crisis.”

As of May 2, 62,000 workers who had applied for UI were waiting for their first benefits to arrive, according to data from the Oregon Employment Department. About 60 percent of this group of workers had been waiting more than 3 weeks.

“The problem could be worse than the department figures indicate,” said Bauer. She noted the department acknowledges that the figures do not take into account workers who are newly eligible for UI due to a federal expansion of the program.

The Employment Department figures also do not reflect workers who tried to file for UI but were unsuccessful. According to a national survey, as many as one-third of workers who have tried applying have been unable to complete the application.

“Many families were living paycheck-to-paycheck prior to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving them vulnerable to any sudden shock,” Bauer said. “When UI benefits don’t come, families fall into crisis. We now see that playing out in the long lines at food pantries and massive spikes in food insecurity.”

Existing forms of public assistance could help families survive “until their first Unemployment Insurance check arrives,” wrote four organizations in a letter to Gov. Brown.

Oregon Center for Public Policy, Oregon Food Bank, Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon, and 211info urged the governor to encourage laid-off workers to apply for SNAP benefits (formerly called “food stamps”) and other forms of public assistance at the same time they apply for unemployment insurance. The four organizations also called for a public awareness campaign.

“Many Oregonians recently laid off from work will qualify for SNAP benefits, at least until they begin receiving UI benefits,” the letter said. “Some of their children will be eligible for school meals, some households with children will be temporarily eligible for TANF. And many losing job-based health insurance will be eligible for the Oregon Health Plan.”

“For the sake of our children, families, workers, and communities in this difficult time,” the letter said, “Oregon must take every reasonable action to connect desperate households with available public assistance.”