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In-Depth: Local families wait as Ohio works to solve pandemic benefit delays

Local families wait as Ohio works to solve pandemic benefit delays
Local families wait as Ohio works to solve pandemic benefit delays
Posted at 10:31 PM, Jan 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 00:05:03-05

ELYRIA, Ohio — Heather Wulff of Elyria is hoping her Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA will resume in the coming weeks, as her family struggles to pay the bills after she lost her job as a tile installer last year.

“Since I’ve started, I’ve made well over 90 phone calls, getting different answers each time," Wulff said.

“We are waiting for our extension, but we don’t know if we’re supposed to appeal the case, or just wait for the system to update and everything will just update itself.”

Wulff is concerned if her benefits don't resume soon she could lose her home.

"We do have a lot of help from family because a lot of the times we can’t buy food, or help the kids, or pay for our utilities because a lot of them are behind.”

“It’s just a system overload and it’s just so much uncertainty with them, it's just hard.”

Kimberly Hall, Director of the Ohio Department Job and Family Services, told News 5 PUA claims filed for the weeks prior to December 27 are now again being accepted from claimants who have not exhausted the original 39 weeks provided by the CARES Act.

However, Hall said new claims cannot yet be filed because system programming is needed to implement the new program integrity requirements and make the additional 11 weeks available.

"We needed to suspend or hold-off as we did our system updates and improvements," Hall said

“Yes there was a delay, there was a break. We needed that time to do that programming, but now that is reinstated.”

“The ability to accept new claims is still in process, but we’re working as quickly as we can.”

“We are working as diligently as we can, we are continuing our hiring, we are continuing our training.”

Hall announced the launching of a new website to help Ohioans navigate the extended and amended federal programs, and an online portal, so people can report suspected unemployment fraud if they believe someone used their identity to file bogus claims.

Hall said her agency is starting to send out 1.7 million 1099G forms to people they believe received benefits in 2020 and said 166,000 1099s have already been removed from the mailing list for suspected fraud.

ODJFS is now asking Ohioans to provide more information on new claims in an effort to reduce fraud.

“Most PUA claimants will now be required to provide documentation for employment, self-employment, or planned commencement of employment within 21-days of when they apply for benefits," Hall said.

“We are continuing our very aggressive plan to move through what is a very significant backlog.”