Our state is facing another devastating budget year. Between the economic fallout from the virus and the energy sector, our state revenues have been decimated. While we do have some money remaining in our state emergency funds, we have a tough road ahead of us. Without knowing when the virus will stop spreading, the energy sector will recover, unemployment will go down and all business can return to normal, there’s no way for us to truly know what financial situation the state will be facing in the coming year. We can only estimate based on current data.
We have four weeks left in the legislative session and we’re returning to the Capitol this Monday. Finishing the budget is, of course, our main objective but as I’ve already said this is going to be difficult given we’re guessing as to when our state economy will be back to normal and the energy sector will recover. We’re going to have to make some really hard decisions in the next two weeks.
Something else we must finish is confirming the governor’s executive nominations. Friday was the deadline for him to submit those to the legislature. As of Friday, we had approved nearly 100 and we’re expecting more from Gov. Stitt.
Last Tuesday morning in the Senate Education Committee, I proudly carried Tecumseh resident Randall Gilbert’s exec nom to the State Board of Career and Technology Education, to serve a six-year term ending April 1, 2026, succeeding himself. He has done an outstanding job on this board and I look forward to the full Senate confirming his nomination in the next couple of weeks.
My thoughts and prayers are constantly with my fellow Oklahomans as we move into this next phase to begin slowly and cautiously reopening our economy. Thank you to all the healthcare workers, emergency responders and other essential employees and businesses who have helped us through this historically difficult time.
We’re not out of the woods just yet as cases are still being reported and people are still dying. We must continue to be so cautious as we work to return to our normal lives. Please continue keeping your distance from others, wearing a mask in public and washing your hands regularly. We need to still only get out when absolutely necessary to further stop this from spreading.
I also want to mention a couple of updates on unemployment claims and tell you about a new financial incentive program for large Oklahoma companies. Hopefully, you’ve already seen this information in the news or on social media but just in case you haven’t, I wanted to pass it along.
I’m in constant contact with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) about issues people are having filing and receiving their unemployment payments. I know this is extremely frustrating as so many Oklahoma families have been unemployed for weeks now. This small agency wasn’t prepared for the historic number of filings. They normally deal with 2,500 or so claims a week but received nearly 47,000 last week.
Rest assured, though, that their website and other technology to process claims has been updated and all claims should be addressed in the coming week. The federal government also authorized Oklahoma last week to begin processing the newly created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for self-employed individuals, which has also been a massive undertaking in recent weeks for this small agency.
The new website to file or check on your claim is https://ui.ok.gov.
The OESC is also now facing another challenge and that’s identity theft. They have already investigated around 300 cases and more are being reported daily. You can report suspected identity theft at email@example.com.
In closing, I want to remind our local companies about another financial program to help you grow and expand. The Oklahoma Bounce Back Assistance Program was launched this last week after the Oklahoma Manufacturing Reboot Program filled up so quickly. For those with annual payrolls of $1.25 million or higher, the program will provide $50,000 – $150,000 monthly payroll tax rebates. Companies need to apply by this coming Friday, May 8, at www.okcommerce.gov/bounceback.