Editor’s Note: This first appeared on state Rep. Mickey Dollens’ Facebook page. We are sharing it with our readers because of its importance to so many during the pandemic.
BY MICKEY DOLLENS
I write this post with a heavy heart. I ask that you read it in its entirety and if you find the information to be helpful or useful, please share it for those who have tried to navigate the unnecessarily complex unemployment process. I do not write these words with the intention of destroying hope nor do I intend to give up fighting for all of you.
I initially began sharing information on my Facebook page with my constituents and fellow Oklahomans with the intention of being a conduit of information between OESC and my followers. I know at the start of the pandemic, people were looking for clear guidance. I truly thought I could help clarify and work through pain points in the unemployment application process.
After over a month of this, I feel I have been misled and we are being asked to chase a moving target. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission [OESC] has continued to change the application process and has muddied communication beyond repair. I do not say this lightly, but I feel that these constant changes are being made with the objective of making the process difficult in hopes of withholding or delaying these much needed funds to my fellow Oklahomans. Whether these delays and constant changes are intentional or merely the result of completely inept leadership, they are FAILING Oklahomans. This is their duty and they are failing you.
The funds they are withholding and delaying are rightfully those of Oklahomans in need. If you are struggling in this process and find the application difficult, misleading, or confusing, please know you are not alone. The system has been described as glitchy at best, an application that is poorly worded with duplicate questions, circular and misleading website routing, inappropriately rude out of state call operators [whatever happened to employing Oklahomans?], promised returned calls that never are received, and even security issues regarding social security numbers. This is just a few of the issues I hear on a daily basis not to mention the constant promises of funding and those dates consistently being extended.
I can empathize that the governor and OESC were unprepared for a crisis of this magnitude. However, they have had time to improve this process. We can no longer excuse their delays. This is a failure of implementation and communication from the top. You and the other 300,000 Oklahomas who have tried to file for unemployment deserve clear guidance and answers from your leadership. Admittedly, states all over the country are having issues processing unemployment claims. However, no other state is having this level of ineptitude. No other state is having conversations amongst top leadership about how to withhold federal dollars from those who need it most. Contrary to what our leadership seems to believe, the hard working Oklahomans I know have no desire to sit at home and collect a check from the government. We all want to get back to work when it is safe for ALL of us to return to work. But until that time comes, many of the people in our great state will need financial support as we continue to encourage people to social distance.
I have spoken personally with leadership at OESC. They claim part of the rationale for delaying funds disbursement is due to what they believe is widespread fraud. I was quoted a number of 85,000 Oklahomans who they believe have committed fraud by filing for unemployment. This truly disheartens me to imagine that the very agency who should be helping people make ends meet during this trying time is more worried about investigating a few bad apples. I would challenge you to find 85,000 Oklahomans who HAVEN’T been financially affected by COVID-19 and also had the time to weed through the cumbersome application process to apply fraudulently for unemployment. I think the real risk is the lack of security in the OESC’s antiquated system which is posing risk for identity theft of real applicants.
Gov. Stitt has appeared on my living room television almost every day for weeks now. He informs us of a rosy picture of processed claims, funds being distributed, and calls being answered and returned. I’m here in the trenches with all of you and this does not align with what I know to be true. I’ve included results of several polls I’ve taken on my Facebook page in this post. Please review those results for what I believe to be the reality of applications and fund distribution in Oklahoma.
Either our governor is being untruthful with his status updates or he is completely misinformed as to the reality of this situation as it lies within OESC, which is arguably one of the most important agencies in Oklahoma right now. I will let you pick which of those options you like best but I don’t think either one is even remotely tolerable, excusable, or acceptable.
I want to leave you with words of hope. I don’t want you to panic, but I also don’t know when or if this will be resolved. Our governor and OESC have failed to meet even my most minimal of expectations at this point.
I am doing absolutely everything I can to continue to communicate the information from OESC. However, I have helped you all silently for long enough and I am now calling out those in charge. I am sharing this information here for you to have knowledge that isn’t readily available and that should be. Knowledge is power and I think the people of Oklahoma deserve that power. I am not giving up and neither should you. You deserve better and you deserve people who will fight for you, everyday Oklahomans, when times are hard. I ask that you stay positive and continue holding your head high as us Okies have a knack for doing. Lastly, I ask that you remember this when you go to the polls. Vote for people who are – in the trenches not raking in millions while accusing you of fraud.
– Democrat Mickey Dollens represents District 93 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives