Ohio human services chief: jobless claims came ‘in a tsunami’

More than 1.2 million Ohioans filed jobless claims in the past nine weeks, more than the combined total in the past three years, the agency said last week as it provided the most recent unemployment claims figures.

Posted: May 27, 2020 3:03 PM
Updated: May 27, 2020 5:21 PM

COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio faced an unprecedented surge in unemployment claims almost overnight as the pandemic led to widespread business shutdowns, leaving the state no time to retool its system to respond, the state’s human services chief said Wednesday as she testified before Republican lawmakers critical of the state’s reaction.

State officials in at least two other states, Arkansas and Wisconsin, were also expected to respond to similar complaints in legislative testimony Wednesday.

In contrast to the Great Recession beginning in 2008 when jobless claims arrived gradually, the recent layoffs came immediately “in a tsunami,” Kimberly Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, told the House Ways and Means Committee.

At the same time, because jobless numbers were so low more recently, the agency’s unemployment staffing had been reduced, Hall said.

“This experience has been unlike anything any of us have ever witnessed,” Hall said.

The state had only about 550 people in its unemployment office when the pandemic started and only 40 full-time agents in its call center, Hall said.

The state now has 1,250 part-time and full-time call center agents.

Ohio has also been hobbled by the benefit system and call center’s antiquated technology, Hall said.

Ways and Means committee members have heard from many people across Ohio in recent weeks who had problems receiving their unemployment checks, said Rep. Derek Merrin, the committee’s chairman, a Republican from Moncolva in northwestern Ohio.

Breanna Holland is a 23-year-old restaurant server in Marysville in central Ohio who lost her job when her restaurant shut down in March as a result of the state’s stay-at-home order.

She told the committee last week of her frustration over several weeks challenging the state’s initial denial of her claim.

“I could not reach a person. I could not leave a message. There was no call queue,” Holland said. She said she finally received benefits after reaching out to her state representative for help.

Merrin criticized the state’s preparation and response, saying the high volume of calls was the result of a broken website that should have been addressed before the pandemic hit.

He also questioned why callers who wait for hours on the phone only to be disconnected aren’t immediately called back.

“We’re in 2020—how do we not have a phone system that appropriately works?” Merrin said.

Hall agreed that the website is problematic and said it’s in the process of being revamped.

She agreed that the hang-ups were frustrating and the problem is being examined.

More than 1.2 million people filed jobless claims in the past nine weeks, more than the combined total in the past three years, the agency said last week as it provided the most recent unemployment claims figures.

The state has paid out more than $2.8 billion in state funds to date along with more than $21 million from the federal Pandemic Unemployment Act.

Ohio’s unemployment rate hit 16.8% last month, the highest since the state began its current record-keeping system in 1976.

In Wisconsin, the head of the state’s Department of Workforce Development planned to respond Wednesday to Republican lawmakers’ complaints about the administration of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ handling of unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic.

Arkansas unemployment agency officials were also testifying Wednesday about problems setting up that state’s system for distributing federal unemployment dollars and about a breach that caused the system to shut down.

Complaints about the handling of unemployment claims have dogged officials across the country, including in Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, where the director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission resigned last week as the unemployment agency has been the target of complaints of jobless claims going unpaid.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 613228

Reported Deaths: 9728
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion846851338
Lake45676687
Allen32980552
Hamilton29649315
St. Joseph27531382
Elkhart24478345
Vanderburgh19610250
Tippecanoe18108141
Johnson15191295
Porter14944169
Hendricks14485250
Madison11044222
Clark10811144
Vigo10795181
Monroe9458113
Delaware9170134
LaPorte9145164
Howard8292144
Kosciusko810183
Warrick680299
Hancock6782104
Bartholomew6640100
Floyd6507110
Wayne6177162
Grant6027116
Dubois558680
Boone556468
Morgan548695
Henry511464
Marshall506984
Cass486964
Dearborn486545
Noble475659
Jackson427747
Shelby420781
Lawrence393780
Clinton375044
Gibson374459
Harrison353045
DeKalb349864
Montgomery347654
Knox336239
Miami324544
Steuben315046
Whitley311126
Wabash305851
Adams302836
Ripley300546
Putnam298950
Huntington294860
Jasper291734
White275143
Daviess271774
Jefferson266238
Decatur249583
Fayette248648
Greene242262
Posey241028
Wells236951
LaGrange230062
Scott226839
Clay224332
Randolph215248
Jennings200636
Sullivan193533
Spencer193022
Washington188023
Fountain184927
Starke176444
Jay168623
Owen167637
Fulton164830
Orange160935
Carroll159715
Rush156318
Perry155929
Vermillion149734
Franklin149333
Tipton133133
Parke13088
Pike118526
Blackford111822
Pulaski97837
Newton92021
Brown88335
Benton87110
Crawford8099
Martin74913
Warren6857
Switzerland6695
Union6297
Ohio4977
Unassigned0376

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 868656

Reported Deaths: 10768
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin102154707
Cuyahoga865201153
Hamilton64744448
Montgomery43516419
Summit35250762
Lucas31663631
Butler31268232
Stark26096443
Warren19830142
Lorain19296229
Mahoning17471339
Lake16250154
Clermont16128112
Delaware1453680
Licking13326137
Fairfield1294981
Trumbull12920317
Greene12174141
Medina11732168
Clark11058265
Wood10457158
Allen9988127
Portage9454111
Miami924473
Richland9236118
Marion7486113
Tuscarawas7440183
Columbiana7409124
Pickaway732150
Wayne7111172
Muskingum710342
Erie6221130
Ross5558100
Hancock555292
Scioto542764
Geauga515955
Darke473492
Lawrence460658
Union456928
Ashtabula456473
Sandusky439562
Mercer435089
Seneca433866
Huron432841
Auglaize424164
Shelby422522
Jefferson422469
Belmont421145
Washington394240
Athens38389
Putnam378075
Madison358129
Knox356122
Ashland349038
Fulton340443
Defiance334486
Crawford325774
Preble322737
Brown315821
Logan312132
Ottawa296543
Clinton291543
Williams280367
Highland279018
Jackson265845
Guernsey257126
Champaign253428
Fayette239530
Morrow23464
Perry233718
Holmes226774
Henry221953
Hardin215533
Coshocton206922
Van Wert203445
Gallia199826
Wyandot196751
Pike178017
Adams177715
Hocking173224
Carroll157616
Paulding145321
Noble121040
Meigs109724
Monroe102232
Harrison89921
Morgan83931
Vinton71314
Unassigned00
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