(TNS) — Oregon will begin paying one-time $500 relief checks Wednesday to as many as 70,000 Oregonians, targeting those who have jobless claims the state hasn’t yet paid.
State lawmakers approved the payments in July, aiming to help out unemployed workers who haven’t received their benefits from Oregon’s faltering jobless claims system.
The $35 million program is first-come, first-served. And to prevent fraud, applicants will need to pick up their money in person at a bank or credit union – there are at least 150 locations statewide.
Oregon says it doesn’t expect the money to run out immediately, but people should move quickly to make their claims. The state has posted a five-page application form online at https://emergencychecks.oregon.gov; the website has a list of participating financial institutions, their locations, and instructions on submitting an application online or in person. The $500 is an outright grant, not a loan. Benefits are limited to Oregon residents with valid identification who are suffering financial hardship due to the pandemic and who were earning less than the equivalent of $48,000 per year before the coronavirus hit (the state’s average annual wage is about $57,000.)
If applicants have sought unemployment benefits during the pandemic, either through the regular benefits program or for the new program for self-employed workers, they are only eligible for the $500 if the state is behind in payments to them (excluding the waiting week payment, which Oregon has not made to anyone.)
People who have not applied for unemployment benefits are eligible for the $500 if they meet the other criteria on residency, financial hardship and income.
Applicants must adhere to coronavirus safety measures when picking up their checks or submitting an application in person, and program administrators recommend checking qualification criteria carefully before going to a participating bank. Those who cannot access the state’s application website can call 2-1-1 for instructions.
Participating financial institutions include the Northwest Oregon Credit Union Association, Umpqua Bank and Columbia Bank. Oregon lawmakers say those financial institutions have agreed not to charge fees to the state or to payment recipients.
There may be some variation among financial institutions in how people receive their $500, but legislative staff say it will frequently be available for direct deposit in a bank account or as a cashier’s check.
“We know these limited funds are not enough for the thousands of individuals and families across the state,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said in a statement Wednesday. “But after months of hearing from increasingly desperate Oregonians who were doing everything right and still not getting the benefits they are owed, we hope this is a streamlined way for some measure of relief.”
A bipartisan legislative committee unanimously approved the payments on July 14 in acknowledgement of the persistent setbacks the state has sustained in paying out jobless benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. Tens of thousands of people are waiting for their benefits, and some have been waiting for months.
The money comes from federal relief funds Congress allocated to states in March. Lawmakers originally discussed directing the $500 payments specifically to those waiting for unemployment benefits. Legislative staff said this week that restrictions on the federal money preclude limiting it just to those who have filed for unemployment. That’s why the payments are available to others experiencing financial hardship.
The Legislature initially hoped to launch the program within a couple weeks of approving it on July 14, but Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services warned from the start it would take several weeks to establish a procedure for the payouts and a mechanism to prevent fraud.
The program lawmakers outlined in July didn’t include an income threshold. Legislative Democrats said Gov. Kate Brown urged the adoption of an income threshold to target the payments toward workers most affected by Oregon’s coronavirus shutdown – service workers, gig workers and those in the hospitality sector.
For more information on the $500 payment program, visit the state’s website for the program at https://emergencychecks.oregon.gov.
©2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.