ELYRIA, Ohio — Six months after applying for Ohio unemployment benefits, an Elyria mother, who stopped working to care for her disabled son, said she is still waiting for help from the state.
Wendy White, 44, said she applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in July, was approved for benefits, but has not received any funds and cannot reach anyone who can explain why.
"I feel like there’s no hope," she said. "I can’t keep waiting because I can’t take care of my kids. And I’m just at my wit’s end, I don’t know what to do anymore."
White said she is struggling to afford to buy basic supplies, like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, for her and her three children.
She used her stimulus check to pay her bills through January, but she has no idea how to cover February's expenses.
"If I can’t keep paying for the roof over my head or the water to bathe my kids and flush the toilet or the gas on to heat my house, what do you do?" White asked.
When the pandemic struck last spring, White said she was forced to quit her job as a cashier at Nick's Drivethru in Elyria to care for her middle child, Arthur, 14.
She said Arthur has cerebral palsy and other health conditions that put him at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
"I would love to go out and go to work, but I can't," White said. "I have to be at home with my son."
White is far from alone. Last fall, our investigation found, at that time, 77,946 Ohio workers were waiting for help, including 2,212 who had been waiting six months.
News 5 requested the current number and breakdown of pending OH unemployment claims, but has yet to receive the information.
"Every claim is important to us. Every claim is important to me," said ODJFS Director Kimberly Hall. "I know that many Ohioans are struggling."
During a Zoom news conference Wednesday, Hall said her staff has their hands full. They're currently rolling out extensions to existing unemployment programs. ODJFS is also busy combating fraudulent unemployment claims.
"It does detract from the ability to move and process claims. It does clog up our resources. It’s regrettable," Hall said.
When we asked about workers with longstanding pending claims, like White, Hall said claims that take months to process are usually complicated by issues related to wages, work history, and identification.
News 5 also requested specific information about White's claim. ODFJS spokesperson sent us the following response:
"Ms. White has informed our agency that there are issues we cannot disclose that are preventing her from working. Unfortunately, this raises eligibility issues and claim complexity in our unemployment programs. We are investigating her case and will be in contact with the claimant with an update. We are sympathetic to her situation and we are doing our best to help her.
"In addition to unemployment there are many state programs available for Ohioans in need. The best place to start is to visit benefits.ohio.gov to see if they may be eligible for other forms of assistance. There are many sources of help available to those facing challenges."
White said she does not believe her claim is complicated. "There’s no issues. There’s no problems. Absolutely nothing," she said.