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Surviving a pandemic challenging for Cleveland mom waiting for unemployment benefits

Posted at 10:55 PM, Apr 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-25 23:11:09-04

CLEVELAND — Before COVID-19 loomed over the state, Ashley Hill was a server at Cooper’s Hawk, taking care of her of almost two-year-old son with no worries.

Now, she can’t help but worry while trying to figure out how to make ends meet.

“It’s just frustrating having a child and not knowing like am I going to be able to do this, do that, am I going to be able to help?” Hill said. “My safety and my son’s safety are the most important things but being able to provide is also very important as well.”

Hill said seeking help from the state hasn’t been easy. Her unemployment claims were denied twice, despite submitting several appeals. After non-stop calls and messages to the governor, Ashley ended up receiving an unemployment check. Still, she struggled trying to take of her family, so she applied for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, but was denied.

“From the unemployment and the last [pay]check, they said that I had too much income,” she said.

We shared Hill’s experience with Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kim Hall, who said she was unaware of any issues surrounding snap eligibility. Hill promised to investigate, while also announcing more available relief to those in need.

“We increased the level of SNAP payments for all payments for March and April and that deployed very seamlessly because it is a cloud based system which our regular unemployment system is not,” Hill said.

In a joint media interview Friday, Hill noted there have been about one million claims filed in Ohio. However, there are 939,179 non-duplicated claims.

“Total claims is hard because you have people filing multiple claims. One person filed five ties because they were frustrated,” she explained.

In addition, 484,450 (51%) of those claims have been approved, 200,769 (21%) claims have been denied and 249,708 claims are still pending.

“This week we have implemented virtual call center technology to make sure that every calls makes it through. That was a significant challenge our clients were experiencing as they were trying to engage. Calls were dropped and they couldn’t even get through to the automated system. So now that we have Amazon web services launched and on deck, that experience is greatly enhanced,” Hill said. “We will not rest until every eligible Ohioan has the benefits they need, and I am very sorry deeply sorry for those delays that individuals have been experiencing.”

After a trip to the mailbox Saturday afternoon, Hill said she found two letters sent recently from the state showing she was approved for SNAP benefits and will receive a payment of $123 this month and another payment of $170 in May.

While those payments will help, Hill said taking care of her son without a job during a pandemic is an ongoing daily battle.

“I know there are plenty of other people in a far worse situation than I am. I’m sincerely thankful for God that I’m not out here homeless or stranded, but my child comes first and I have to be able to provide for him.”