Oregon employers most ravaged by the pandemic are also hardest hit by hike in unemployment insurance tax

Ryan Sherman’s Italian restaurant in Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood was enjoying its best stretch ever in the weeks before COVID-19 hit the state. After the pandemic arrived, he shut down his restaurant, Gabagool, for six weeks and laid off all 15 employees while it repositioned itself for takeout and outdoor dining.

Eight months later Gabagool was still in business, scraping by, when a notice from the Oregon Employment Department arrived warning Sherman that his unemployment insurance tax rate would quadruple next year.

As federal coronavirus relief funds dry up, and Gabagool hunkers down for a difficult winter, Sherman said the prospect of a big payroll tax hike makes the future of his business tenuous.

“Unless we get more federal assistance before spring it’s going to be really, really dire,” Sherman said. “I really want to know why nobody saw this coming and did something about it six months ago.”

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