LAKEWOOD, Ohio — There are at least 200,000 Ohioans waiting for unemployment benefits because, unlike most states, Ohio has been unable to quickly set up a system for a new federal unemployment program.
Watch News 5 Investigator Sarah Buduson's full report on News 5 at 6 p.m.
State officials blame the antiquated current system and an overwhelming number of claims for the delay.
However, a national expert notes that most state have struggling with similar issues and are already providing workers' payments.
'Plummeted back down'
Kelsyn Caton and her husband, Keith, were both working when the coronavirus cost them their jobs.
"We’ve worked so hard to get on our feet," said the Lakewood resident. "We were finally starting to get there and now, we’re just, we’ve plummeted back down."
The couple were laid off from their jobs as servers at Perkins Restaurant & Bakery in Middleburg Heights in mid-March.
"It’s very stressful," she said. "Bills don’t stop."
"It’s either, 'Okay, we pay this bill or we go get what we need," she said.
Her stress has been heightened, she said, because she is still waiting to find out if she will receive help from Ohio.
"Am I gonna get it? Am I am not going to get it? What’s going on?" she said.
Caton is far from alone.
As of Monday, she is one of 208,514 Ohioans who pre-registered for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), according to Bret Crow, Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services spokesman.
PUA is one of three new federal unemployment program created by the U.S. Congress through the CARES Act to help workers impacted by COVID-19.
Ohio has yet to begin paying PUA benefits.
"When it comes to PUA, Ohio is below average," said Michele Evermore, an expert in unemployment insurance and a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, which works to correct structural inequities for low-income and unemployed workers.
"It’s not serving workers well," she said. "People who don’t have a lot of money don’t have a month and a half to wait to get a benefit."
Who gets PUA?
PUA was created to assist workers who wouldn't usually qualify for unemployment benefits — for example, anyone with COVID-19, a family member with COVID-19 or caring with someone with COVID-19 qualifies for PUA.
Self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig workers, workers serving penalty weeks through regular unemployment insurance, and workers with insufficient work history, like Caton, can also receive unemployment through PUA.
Do you qualify for PUA? Click this link the find out: U.S. Dept. of Labor unemployment insurance
She just returned to work in January after taking time off to care for her daughter, Willow, 2, and her mother, who is in remission from breast cancer.
"We were told, ‘Okay, everybody’s going to get unemployment.' So everybody applies for unemployment and they pick and choose who can’t get it now?" said Caton.
'Making everybody wait'
We also found Ohio is one of just 13 states that has yet to start paying workers who are eligible for PUA.
Most states, including Michigan, Indiana, and Pennsylvania are already processing payments.
"I think this is indicative of the challenge that we have with our antiquated systems. I just have to be honest there," said Kimberly Hall, Director, Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.
Hall said Ohio's unemployment insurance still uses a mainframe computer system.
A new system had to be built to process PUA and attached to the current system.
"Some states were already cloud-based in their existing system. And it was very adaptable and malleable to kind of tacking on and creating a new system," said Hall.
But Evermore said just 16 states have cloud-based systems.
"Not every state is making everybody wait until their computer system is perfected in order to actually start looking at these claims," said Evermore. "That’s definitely a problem in Ohio."
Ohio finally launched its PUA system and began accepting applications Tuesday.
Apply for PUA here: OH PUA application
Director Hall says it will take five to seven days to process an application and distribute payment, either through direct deposit or a debit card in the mail.
Caton said she immediately submitted her application, but two months after losing her job, she's still received no guarantee she will receive any assistance from Ohio.
"It's horrible," she said. "Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t promise people that everybody’s going to get unemployment and everybody’s not getting unemployment."