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Problem Solvers: Oklahomans want answers over delay in unemployment benefits

Demand for unemployment benefits up slightly
Posted at 8:26 PM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 22:32:47-04

With an overwhelming amount of Oklahomans not getting their unemployment benefits, many have contacted the problem solvers asking for help.

Jacqueline Fox is just one of many frustrated with trying to get her unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I filed and was approved on unemployment on April 4, and I have yet to receive my card. When you try to call, you're on hold for hours. I have coworkers that have not received their cards either. Some of them [have] been told they was to receive them on the 27th, some on the 29th, still nothing," Fox said. " They really need to get on top of this. This hurts the economy as well as the individual because its us that are not getting our unemployment. We're not out spending money 'cause we have no money to spend. We're not keeping the economy flowing. It's been frustrating. and then we all get different answers every time we call."

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission sent us this statement in response the growing number of questions we’re getting about delays in benefits:

"OESC has state employees working around the clock to find technology-driven solutions to issues that are plaguing the outdated infrastructure the state unemployment system operated under for decades. We have made significant improvements in very little time like allowing claimants to apply online for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and creating a new, easy to navigate website where claimants can check the status of their claims, input information for their weekly claim attestation, or utilize the chatbot to ask questions instead of calling the agency.

While these improvements will likely not solve every problem from the record number of claims we are receiving, we will continue to push out new information and solutions to the issues that have arisen and make sure every submission has been vetted and reviewed.

Individuals with questions about the Conduent prepaid debit card should contact the vendor at 866-320-8699 or visit [goprogram.noclick_noclick_com].” - Secretary for Digital Transformation David Ostrowe

So, we requested the contract between the OESC and Conduent to find out what guidelines they agreed to when it comes to handing out benefits in a timely manner and who is responsible when those benefits aren’t paid out.

While searching the contract, we found an interesting clause called the "Force Majeure".

"Many written contracts anyways have a force majeure clause. Sometimes it mentions "acts of god", sometimes it doesn’t. They’re kind of similar concepts and the idea is that if current events have occurred that are listed, and normally they are listed in most of these force majeure clauses. if an event has happened that causes the parties to be unable to perform their contract promises then that force majeure clause should allow the parties to be at least temporarily free from having to do that or leave their duties at least temporarily suspended," said TU Law Professor Robert Spoo.

That force majeure clause can be found in many agreements.

In fact, recently many insurance companies used it to deny claims for small business disruption insurance.

However, like any agreement, it can be debated in court.

"Force majeure operates, typically when the performance of a contract duty becomes impossible not just when it becomes difficult," Profesor Spoo said.

Meaning, just because a contract lists a pandemic in their force majeure doesn’t mean they’re off the hook from that agreement.

According to the agreement between the OESC and Conduent, there is no timeline in which they are required to get benefits to Oklahomans.

It's an answer that just adds to frustration for those like Fox.

"They need a better system for when this happens. I know the governor at one point had said something about making the cards here which I think would be an excellent idea 'cause anytime you outsource you're at somebody else's mercy," Fox said.

Conduent sent us this statement about the delays:

“We are working closely with the State of Oklahoma to fulfill the unprecedented increase in disbursement of unemployment benefits. As indicated, a number of entities are involved in working as quickly as possible to get cards into the hands of hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans in need. We continue to deliver our portion of the fulfillment as rapidly as possible, and we are working cooperatively with the State and other vendors to make sure that Oklahomans get their benefits as quickly as possible.”

So, even though the contract does not seem to provide any help to those searching for answers, what we found could be helpful in other ways.

Professor Spoo says to make sure you look for that "force majeure" clause in your contracts.

It could show up in places like your insurance policy, loan paperwork or rental agreement.

That kind of clause in a time of global pandemic could help or hurt you depending on how it's written.

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