CLEVELAND — About 10 million Americans have now filed for unemployment over the last two weeks, and here in Ohio, the Department of Job and Family Services announced it's received nearly half a million claims in the last two weeks.
More than 468,000 Ohioans filed for unemployment, which is more than 100,000 higher than in all of 2019. As of Thursday morning, ODJFS said it's paid out more than $45 million to 108,000 claimants.
The director of ODJFS, Kimberly Hall, said Wednesday morning that these are unprecedented times and said the state is working "diligently" to scale up the number of employees manning its call center and working on the website. Right now, there are 420 employees taking calls at the call center from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, with some employees also available on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"We firmly understand the frustration that Ohioans are experiencing," Hall said of the overwhelming volume of people visiting the unemployment website and trying to get through by phone. "Every claim, every situation is immensely important to us."
With changes that allow 1099 workers and the self-employed to file claims for unemployment, called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, the number of unemployment claims is expected to rise. However, Hall said there are no systems set up yet to take those claims.
"Right now we do not have a system that can accommodate these new programs, and we need further federal guidance on the exact parameters," Hall said.
She said ODJFS has had a number of calls with the Department of Labor this week and that ODJFS is hoping to have guidance by the end of the week, "which will then help us inform the technical requirements for the system that we need to build."
"It’s really hard to predict," Hall said of the time frame. "The goal is for Ohio to be a frontrunner in establishing that, but as I said, no state has that system right now. No vendor has the system designed for these new programs that the federal government has established, so we’re looking at a number of weeks before we’ll be prepared for roll out."
She said the benefits would be retroactive to March 29, the first Sunday after the federal legislation was passed.
For other workers attempting to file on Ohio's unemployment website and having trouble doing so, Hall emphasized that no matter when the claim is filed, benefits will be paid retroactive to the date of unemployment.
"It may delay receiving these actual benefits, but they will count all the way back to that first date," Hall said.
The new federal legislation also provides 13 additional weeks of eligibility for people who have already exhausted their 26 weeks of unemployment or are near that mark.
Furloughed workers, such as those furloughed from companies like Macy's and Kohl's, are also eligible to receive unemployment benefits during this pandemic, according to Hall.
A professor of business law weighs in
Juscelino Colares is the Schott-van den Eynden Professor of Business Law at Case Western Reserve University's School of Law.
"The speed and magnitude of job losses is truly unprecedented," Colares said.
He said this is like nothing we've seen in past recessions and that this shock to the economy has caused two sectors, service and retail, to collapse.
"As people lose jobs, then there’s less demand in other sectors, and then there’s going to be more job losses as a result of that," Colares said.
Despite massive layoffs and furloughs, Colares said some sectors are growing during this time, including grocery stores. However, he said those jobs don't come close to making up for what's been lost.
Still, Colares said we can expect to see the rate of job loss slow down, even as job losses keep piling up.
"It’s like we are traveling in a very fast car, so the acceleration is very fast in the beginning, right, in terms of job losses, because of this sudden shock to the economy," Colares said.
He said the federal rescue package would "help ease some of the income loss for laid-off Americans, but we'll probably need to do more as we expand the lockdown, so-called lockdown, and social contact rules."
Colares said he expects "two, three weeks of a very tough or a deteriorating job picture with three to six weeks of losses being kind of continuing, but at a much slower pace, but then a gradual but still somewhat fast recovery."
He said he expects by the fourth quarter of 2020 that the economy will go back to "some semblance of normalcy."
"Of course, it’s a tragedy for people who have lost their jobs, but we who have somewhat, hopefully, secure jobs, should be making an effort to basically not reduce our spending, but actually continue our spending in restaurants and at our businesses, so they can keep afloat," Colares said.