A new law that sends $650 million in federal CARES Act money to Ohio communities to help with pandemic-related costs also includes a potential overhaul for the process to apply for unemployment benefits.
The law requires Auditor Keith Faber to review and make recommendations on the efficiency of the unemployment application process, which more than 1.7 million Ohioans have used during this pandemic.
Tens of thousands haven’t received checks going back as far as March, and more than a hundred thousand people were overpaid.
“That system is broken. We need to have a better system. I’m convinced Ohio can do it," Faber said.
Faber said his office held nearly a dozen town halls on the unemployment application system, which he admits did take in more claims in just weeks than were filed in three years.
But there have been complaints about long waits and disconnections on phone lines, delays and other issues, which Faber says could be solved by better customer service and technology and what he calls "client-centered approaches".
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has dealt with several challenges in this pandemic, including creating a system to pay benefits from the federal government for those who don't normally qualify for unemployment assistance. ODJFS was criticized for its page allowing employers to report fraud if workers don't come back to the job. A "data leak" was reported in May, exposing the personal information of a few dozen applicants. And the state investigated a quarter of a million claims for fraud as part of a scam that’s resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent payments in other states. Thousands of claims were held during that probe, and while 95% were fraudulent, many people with valid claims had to wait to get their benefits.
As of October 3, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has taken in 1,752,326 unemployment claims in the last 29 weeks, paying out over $6.9 billion to more than 817,000 Ohioans.
ODJFS says 1,469,357 of the claims it's in have been determined to be unduplicated:
- 73,991 claims, or 5%, are listed as pending
- 919,353 claims, or 62.6%, have been approved
- 446,330 claims, or 30.4%, have been denied
- 29,683 claims, or 2%, have been withdrawn.