COLUMBUS (AP) — As Ohio fields record unemployment claims, many workers out of a job find themselves scrambling to make ends meet as they wait days or weeks for their claim to be processed and checks to be issued.
Nearly 700,000 people filed for unemployment in the past three weeks, the state Department of Job and Family Services said Thursday, almost double the 364,603 claims filed in all of 2019. The 226,007 claims filed for the week ending April 4 marked the second consecutive week that claims topped 200,000.
Ohio has paid more than $124 million so far to more than 195,000 people with claims. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted says hundreds have been added to the state call center to handle all the inquires, but he has repeatedly asked people to be patient.
People will receive checks for work lost from the day they were laid off, regardless of how long it takes to process the claim, he promised.
“We hear you. And we are acting. And we will get the benefits to you that you have earned,” Husted said Friday.
In Newark in central Ohio, information technology worker Stephen Kelty had a job offer on the table that was then rescinded because of the pandemic. That made him eligible for unemployment insurance, and he endured hours of waiting before he spoke to someone about his claim.
Now, a week has passed without any updates. He and his husband, a psychotherapist currently working from home, have three children and are relying on his husband’s salary.
But they are also without health insurance, since that was to come from Kelty’s new job. They are saving money by not driving or going out to eat, and have deferred student loans and mortgage payments. They have also canceled streaming services just when they would come in handiest.
Kelty, 42, believes the state is doing everything it can, but says it’s also telling that many times when he calls, “most of the time their system can’t put you into a queue to wait to be able to talk to somebody.”
People laid off before the pandemic are also feeling the pinch of the backlog.
Carrie Barth, 29, of Marietta in southeastern Ohio, lost her job as an administrative assistant at an accounting firm in February. Weeks later, she is still struggling to get information on the status of her claim. She couldn’t find someone to tell her whether she was required to look for work to receive unemployment checks since her layoff came before COVID-19 hit.
She is not, said Bret Crow, a Job and Family Services spokesman.
“There are no work search requirements for anyone right now during the pandemic,” Crow said in an email to The Associated Press.
As of Friday, nearly 5,900 people in Ohio have tested positive for the virus, and 231 have died, according to new federal guidelines that allow cases and deaths considered “probable” COVID-19 infections without a positive test. Positive tests show about 5,800 cases and 227 deaths in Ohio.
Ten Ohio prisons are under full quarantines, with 38 inmates and 74 employees having tested positive. One prison guard died.