COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nearly 18 months after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, an Ohio lawmaker is calling on Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services to expedite the processing of applications and waivers for workers who are struggling to receive unemployment benefits.
State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) said, "I would almost put a bet on the fact that Ohio may be one of the worst unemployment systems in America."
She said state officials should expedite processing waivers for unemployed Ohio workers whose accounts were flagged for overpayments of funds.
In a letter sent to DeWine earlier this week, Fedor said, “More than half a million people are currently either unable to access their benefits entirely or are having money deducted each week from their payments because of a department error. I implore you to step in and order ODJFS to begin processing overpayment waivers that are just gathering dust while people are suffering.”
According to Fedor, approximately 700,000 Ohioans were notified that ODJFS may have accidentally overpaid them, and they may be eligible for a waiver.
So far, ODJFS has yet to process any waivers.
In an e-mail, Bill Teets, ODJFS communications director, wrote, "around 130,000" workers had applied for a waiver. He wrote that ODJFS does not have an exact date but expects to begin processing overpayment waivers and account takeover reimbursement applications soon.
Fedor also said Ohio should move quickly to set up the reimbursement application system for victims of account takeovers whose benefits were stolen by cyber criminals.
ODJFS director Matt Damschroder announced plans to create a system for victims to apply for reimbursement earlier this summer. Despite multiple requests for information by Fedor and News 5, it remains unclear how many unemployed workers have been stolen from through account takeovers.
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Fedor also said unemployed Ohio workers are still waiting too long, even up to five months, to receive regular unemployment, which puts them and their families in "absolutely dire" situations.
"My staff has to give out the suicide hotline number because they’re so desperate in trying to figure out how to live their lives," she said.
News 5 reached out to DeWine's spokesperson. No one responded to our request for comment.