Riley Hession holds up a letter from the Oregon Employment Department. She filed for unemployment in mid-March, and still has not received her first payment.
Riley Hession holds up a letter from the Oregon Employment Department. She filed for unemployment in mid-March, and still has not received her first payment. COURTESY OF RILEY HESSION

[This year's news cycle was a vicious one, and left little time for reflection. As 2020 nears its end, we're taking the opportunity to look back on the most important Mercury stories written during the past year. This article was originally published on May 15, 2020, and is the first of several check-ins with the same individuals throughout the year. Read the other conversations with these Portlanders here and here. Their cases with Oregon Employment Department are no longer in limbo.. We hope you'll consider making a monthly contribution to the Mercury to help continue our work into next year and beyond.—eds.]

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The Oregon Employment Department (OED) has received over 360,000 unemployment claims since March 15 from Oregonians newly out of work because of COVID-19 restrictions—a record high for the state.

But many of those who filed for those benefits have yet to see a dime of unemployment insurance pay. Due to outdated technology and limited resources, OED has only been able to process 64 percent of the claims it’s received in the last two months.

That leaves thousands of unemployed Oregonians without critical financial support during an unstable time. As their bills pile up and calls to the OED result in a perennial busy signal, they are forced to decide how to best spend their dwindling funds.

The Mercury spoke with five Portlanders who lost their jobs in March— but are still awaiting their first unemployment check—about how they’re budgeting amid coronavirus uncertainty, and dealing with the unexpected stress of unemployment. Here are their stories.

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