The COVID-19 pandemic exposed huge holes in Oklahoma’s safety net. Whether it was unequal access to distance learning for our school kids or unequal access to emergency health care, state government proved itself remarkably unprepared for an emergency.
The resulting chaos is especially painful for the state’s newly unemployed. As the nation’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7% – highest since the Great Depression – Oklahoma experienced the nation’s largest percent increase in claims [4,325%] compared with the pre-virus period, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Nearly one in five Oklahomans has filed for unemployment.
Almost from the day pandemic-related jobless claims spiked, state Rep. Mickey Dollens has gotten an ear-full from constituents about the state’s unemployment system. He’s been in regular contact with the agency, trying to determine what’s working and what’s not – and how best to help his constituents navigate what can be a confusing system. Recently, Rep. Dollens became so frustrated with the agency’s erratic responses that he took to social media to air his concerns.
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration insists all is well. In fact, his secetary of Digital Transformation, Dave Ostrowe, told Oklahoma City’s KOCO Channel 5 there have been “absolutely no delays, whatsoever” in payment of unemployment insurance claims. And he called Rep. Dollens’ criticism “partisan politics.”
In this week’s Observercast – Episode 14: Your Lyin’ Eyes – Rep. Dollens joins us to discuss in more detail what his constituents are telling him – and what he experienced when he, their state representative, tried to help them.