COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the coronavirus pandemic causes a record-level surge in jobless claims, Ohio officials are working to improve processing times, according Bret Crow, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.
“Each claim is important to us, and we recognize the hardship that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on many Ohio families,” wrote Crow in an email to News 5.
As a result, Crow wrote that ODJFS is taking steps to speed up the time it takes to file a new claim, whether you apply online or over the phone.
‘The best way’
According to Crow, filing a claim online at unemployment.ohio.gov “remains the best way” for workers to receive unemployment.
“We have been working around the clock to streamline performance and boost capacity,” he wrote.
Crow wrote ODJFS is adding servers so “the online claims system can handle the unprecedented influx of claims, which has affected processing times.”
He was unable to provide a specific average wait time for online claims. He wrote, “It varies depending on the volume of traffic at any given time."
The waiting game
Crow did provide information about how long people who call 1-877-644-6562 (OHIO-JOB) are waiting to file the claims.
The current average wait time is “about an hour,” according to Crow.
“To handle the onslaught of calls, we are taking an all hands on deck approach and have shifted a number of employers from other areas – and adding more each day – in our agency to help answer questions and process applications on the phone,” he wrote.
He also wrote ODJFS will continue to boost the number of employees working to process claims filed over the phone as needed and has already expanded their hours to help reduce wait times.
“We (ODJFS) have hundreds of agents working from the phone center, but we continuously reassign, re-prioritize and add resources to this effort,” wrote Crow. “We also extended the call center’s hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays."
Despite the state's efforts, applicants will likely still experience wait times.
“It’s important to keep in mind that this is an unprecedented time so we would ask callers and filers to have patience,” Crow wrote.
“We have found that many people are calling to reset their PIN. Most people will be able to use the instructions provided on the phone without needing to speak with someone to reset their PIN because the automated prompts will lead them through the process,” he wrote.
“If they are not able to reset their PIN, then they will need to speak with a representative,” he added. “Once they reset their PIN, they can file their claim online.”
After their claims are filed, Crow wrote claimants that qualify for unemployment will receive assistance in less than two weeks.
“All things being equal, most Ohioans can expect to receive a benefit payment within 7 to 10 days of applying if they use the mass-layoff number and they’re otherwise eligible,” according to Crow.
By the numbers
Despite growing concerns about joblessness and the economy, Ohioans will only be able to find out unemployment numbers on a weekly basis.
In a memo sent to all 50 states, the U.S. Department of Labor asked states to keep the public in the dark about specific unemployment numbers until after the national weekly numbers are released each Thursday.
The memo states the following: “The data from these reports is monitored closely by policy makers and financial markets to determine appropriate actions in light of fast changing economic conditions. As such, this data must remain embargoed until the national claims report is released the following Thursday at 8:30 AM EDT/EST. We recognize the need for states to be responsive to media questions following significant events and as such states may provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase). States should not provide numeric values to the public prior to the release of the embargoed claims data. Once ETA has released the data, states may share information for the given week at the level of granularity deemed appropriate.”
Prior to receiving guidance to restrict the release of daily totals, ODJFS released the following numbers:
March 15 - 11,995March 16 - 36,645
March 17 - 29,177
March 18 - 33, 238
March 19 - 28, 413