OKLAHOMA— Planned payments of $400 to some Oklahoma residents who lost wages amid the coronavirus pandemic are being put on hold due to the potential approval of additional federal unemployment payments, Oklahoma Employment Security Commission director Shelley Zumwalt said Wednesday.
“If new federal legislation is passed and a new federal unemployment relief package reaches Oklahomans, it will be clear that OESC will return the funds,” said Zumwalt, who announced Dec. 10 that the payments would begin this week.
The payments were intended for those who received at least $100 in benefits from any claim type and certified their employment was affected by COVID-19 during the week of Sept. 6-12. The deadline for using the federal dollars is Dec. 27, according to OESC spokesperson Nick Buscemi, who said the agency hopes to know by the end of the week if the payments can be made without recipients possibly being required to repay the funds.
OESC has received about $300 million total from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for payments to those left jobless because of the virus.
Zumwalt said about $50 million remains because of fewer claims than projected and efforts to stop fraudulent claims.
“We had hoped that, as a result of this effort, the state would be able to again provide assistance to claimants with these funds. To be clear, through sound fiscal management the state of Oklahoma saved over $50 million.
The governor’s office announced Wednesday that the state had received all of its initial allotment of coronavirus vaccine doses.
In addition to the more than 33,000 doses to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, more than 6,800 doses were sent to tribal nations by Indian Health Services and the Veterans Administration.
“Distribution is actively taking place across the state, but we want to remind everyone that we still have a long road ahead of us,” said Keith Reed, deputy state health commissioner, adding that residents should continue wearing masks, wash hands frequently and socially distance.
The Oklahoma National Guard has begun delivering the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine to health care providers throughout the state.
Guard members delivered the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday to locations in Enid and Woodward, according to the Guard.
The first doses to Lawton arrived on Wednesday, said state health commissioner Dr. Lance Frye.
Deliveries will continue throughout the state through Thursday and resume when additional doses are received during the month.
The first vaccination in Oklahoma took place Monday when 31-year-old emergency room nurse Hannah White was inoculated in Oklahoma City.
Front-line health care workers are to be the first to be vaccinated, followed by long-term care providers and residents, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and pharmacy staff who will administer the vaccine in long-term care facilities.
The Oklahoma State Health Department on Wednesday reported 245,229 total virus cases and 2,128 deaths since the pandemic began, increases of 3,238 case and 42 more deaths than Tuesday. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows the seven-day rolling average of new cases has risen from 2,696 per day on Dec. 1 to 3,043.5 on Tuesday and the average of daily deaths increased from 13.4 to 23.4.