Frustrations growing as Ohio's unemployment system overwhelmed by benefit seekers

New program may not be ready until May, director says
Bill Yergin
Posted at 5:37 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 18:56:24-04

MEDINA, Ohio — The new unemployment numbers released Thursday in Ohio are staggering, and so is the frustration many are going through even trying to get unemployment benefits.

Every day, News 5 gets calls and emails from workers who say they just want access to the unemployment they desperately need.

“Never envisioned anything like this would happen,” said Bill Yergin, a marketing director who was furloughed because of business shutdowns. “Life was good. contracts were good.”

Then came the coronavirus.

“Who would have ever thought we’d be wearing a face mask in public?” Yergin said. “That’s just ludicrous. Who would have even thought that? But we do what we have to do.”

For Yergin, doing what he has to do means fighting a daily battle to get unemployment benefits, spending hours online and on the phone.

“In the last eight to 10 days, probably 15 times a day” he’s called, never getting to talk to anyone.

His frustrations are growing, he said: “On a scale of one to 10, I’d say 15.”

Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services said the record number of unemployment seekers overwhelmed its systems, a failure that Lt. Gov. Jon Husted apologized for on Wednesday.

“I think it frustrates all of us when we can’t deliver something that we know somebody needs,” Husted said.

On Thursday, the director of the ODJFS admitted the state is still working to set up the program to handle applications for expanded pandemic unemployment claims. It’s not expected to be up and running until May.

“It’s frustrating and challenging for individuals to be in limbo right now while we are understanding requirements and partnering with a vendor to build a system, but they really need to wait until they have the PUA [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] system established,” said Director Kim Hall.

Hall said those benefits will be awarded retroactively, but for Yergin, a contractor who needs that system to handle his claim, “That’s a tragedy. That is totally a tragedy,” he said.

Yergin is sick of talk and promises, and said now is the time for results.

“I think we’ve got to cut through the red tape, get right to the point, get somebody in place that understands and knows what they’re doing,” he said.

Ohio officials said they are still trying to get more state workers re-assigned to handle the flood of phone calls, but right now, there are no plans to hire additional people to do that.