The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) named Shelley Zumwalt as its newest Interim Executive Director.
Zumwalt was approved unanimously by the agency’s commission on Wednesday during an emergency meeting. The previous Interim Executive Director, Robin Roberson, resigned on Friday.
“The two big rocks that I have proposed to the staff that I think will be our guiding principles right now… get people paid and stop fraud,” Zumwalt said after the meeting.
Previously, Zumwalt was the Chief of Innovation at the state Office of Enterprise and Management Services (OMES), which has been helping OESC process historic unemployment claims caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 400,000 Oklahomans have filed for some type of unemployment benefit through OESC since March.
“The current state of operations at OESC, I would say right now, they need to be improved, obviously. I’m getting the heartbreaking stories right now in my email, on my voicemail,” Zumwalt said.
Multiple protests have been staged at the state Capitol building in Oklahoma City related to the wave of unemployment, with delays and confusion being the primary complaints of the crowds that gathered.
Zumwalt said technological innovation and communication have been her strengths previously and will be useful in her new position.
“There are thousands of Oklahomans that are relying on me and the agency right now to find a solution and fix this problem, and we won’t let them down.”
Zumwalt told News 9 that one idea she has to help manage the backlog of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims is the phrasing of certain questions. A confused answer, she said, could lead to the delays in processing. She said questions like “Are you able to work?” may not be obvious in the context of a pandemic.
“The ‘able to work’ question, I think, is a tough one and is tripping people up because whether they are physically able to work is different… Is there a job that’s available to them?” Zumwalt said.
A taskforce has been formed at OESC to help reduce fraudulent claims for benefits.
Zumwalt said she was not aware of how much the state has spent on fake claims so far, but said it was “too much.”