Last week, Shelley Zumwalt was elated to announce a one-time $400 payment to thousands of Oklahomans who were unemployed due to the pandemic, just in time for winter holidays.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to have good news,” Zumwalt said at a news conference on Dec. 10.
The plan changed on Wednesday. Zumwalt, the director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, said on Facebook the payment would not be issued to the roughly 120,000 people expecting it.
“I’m honestly just still angry that this is where we’re at right now,” Zumwalt said on Wednesday. “Disappointment doesn’t even cover it.”
The payment would have been funded by the federal Lost Wage Assistance Program (LWA), managed in part by FEMA and the U.S. Department of Labor. The program was open to anyone who could prove their employment status was affected by the pandemic earlier this year.
Zumwalt said she received conflicting messages from the two agencies on how the one-time payment would affect future benefits.
If the $400 was sent out, Zumwalt said there was a potential for the same individuals to receive future unemployment payments.
There would have been potential, she said, for the money to be recorded as an overpayment if the U.S. Congress passed another national relief package. In that scenario, everyone who received the $400 may have been required to pay it back to the state.
“If we were to issue these payments and cause the problem that I think could happen, I think that would actually be worse than what’s going on now,” Zumwalt said. “Because we could possibly prevent people from accessing more benefits.”
The first package that funded unemployment payments was called the CARES Act and was passed in March. Negotiations for a second are ongoing.