OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Monday that he has submitted an application for unemployed Oklahomans to receive an additional $300 in federal unemployment benefits.
Once the Federal Emergency Management Agency approves the state’s grant application, the federal government will fund the $300-per-week benefit and Oklahoma will fulfill the 25% state match through existing unemployment benefits, Stitt said.
“As we are months ahead of other states in our recovery and Oklahoma is open for business, many Oklahomans have returned to work or are in training to take on a new career,” Stitt said in a statement. “However, we also want to continue to help those who are still working to secure employment.”
For months, on top of their state benefit, unemployed Americans also collected $600 a week in federal jobless aid, but that expired at the end of July, and negotiations in Congress to extend it collapsed.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that would provide $300 a week to replace the expired $600.
“While we appreciate Governor Stitt’s concern for unemployed Oklahomans, it is disappointing that he would sign them up for a 50% reduction in their federal unemployment benefits,” said House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman. “Oklahomans work hard, and they deserve to be protected. Decreasing this benefit hurts Oklahoma’s workforce, small businesses, and our communities that rely on sales tax to survive.
“It seems that the governor hopes he can enroll Oklahoma into this program, and then our state will be omitted from the higher unemployment benefit in the stimulus package Congress passes. Two days before the White House announced the federal unemployment program, Governor Stitt said Oklahomans didn’t need additional federal assistance. Unless he has changed his mind, it makes sense that this reduced-rate program is an attempt to limit the federal assistance Oklahomans receive.”
Unemployed Oklahomans have faced numerous challenges in receiving their unemployment benefits, with lines of people often stretching for blocks outside the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. The agency has blamed delays on an outdated computer system, and Interim OESC Director Shelley Zumwalt acknowledged some delays in the new benefit should be expected.
“Regardless of the timeline, the benefit will be retroactive to Aug. 1, and all eligible claimants will receive back pay to that date once changes to the system have been put into production,” Zumwalt said.
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 569 new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Monday and four additional deaths.
The latest report brings the total number of confirmed cases in Oklahoma to 48,711 and the total number of deaths to 665.
OSDH has reported 4,748 new cases over the last seven days, down from 5,361 cases the previous seven days and 5,048 cases for the same seven days in July.
While the number of new conformed cases has been declining, the number of deaths is increases. OSDH reported 60 deaths over the last seven days, up from 54 for the previous seven days and 29 for the same seven days in July.
There were 7,515 active cases on Monday, up 58 from Sunday and an increase of 35 from 6.980 a week earlier.
An outbreak at the Oklahoma County Detention Center and hot spots in Chandler and Enid were among the state’s most active places for coronavirus infections last week.
Almost 150 inmates at the Oklahoma County Jail have tested positive since July 1. The ZIP code that contains the jail had the week’s largest increase in active cases, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of health department data. The 73102 ZIP code had 130 active cases as of Friday, an increase of 66 from a week ago. The Chandler ZIP code had a large increase in active cases, going from seven a week ago to 44 on Friday. Enid area ZIP codes also recorded large increases for the week.
On Friday, the state added four more counties to the orange, or moderate, risk level. There are 27 counties now in the orange zone, including Oklahoma and Tulsa counties.
In Stillwater, women living at an off-campus sorority house at Oklahoma State University were placed in isolation and are prohibited from leaving the house after 23 of them tested positive for COVID-19, university officials confirmed on Monday.
“Due to the nature of this situation, the entire chapter house is in isolation or quarantine and will be prohibited from leaving the facility,” the university said in statement. “One member of the sorority who lives elsewhere is among those who tested positive and will also remain in isolation.”
A widely circulated video shows dozens of students without masks packed into a Stillwater nightclub over the weekend.
OSU has a combination of in-person and online courses, and students, staff and faculty are required to wear masks indoors and outdoors where social distancing isn’t possible.
Meanwhile, a local dance hall, the Tumbleweed, is moving ahead with plans for a three-day music festival this weekend dubbed “Weedstock.”
Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce said he has concerns about the event, but noted the dance hall is located outside the city limits.
“It is not the right time for thousands of people to gather for a 3-day music festival,” Joyce tweeted.
–Includes contributions from Oklahoma Watch, Journal Record Staff