Private sector invited to fix Ohio jobless claims issues

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine planned Thursday to announce plans for private sector involvement in the state’s troubled jobless claims program, a system battered by a flood of pandemic-related requests.

Over the past 45 weeks, the state’s Human Services’ agency has distributed more than $8 billion in unemployment compensation payments to more than 908,000 Ohioans. But the system has also been plagued by delays and complaints from people on the phone for hours, unable to get help.

The Department of Job and Family Services is also fighting a flood of fraudulent claims. Last week, the Republican DeWine said he’d had enough and would bring in private sector experts.

“It is abundantly clear the state government cannot fix this the way I want it fixed,” DeWine said on Jan. 28 without providing details.

The union representing human services workers opposes the move and blames private contractors hired during the pandemic for overpayments and fraudulent claims. That in turn led to more work for state employees, the union said.

“The slow-down of unemployment claims rests squarely on the shoulders of these private vendors,” said Chris Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

The state said Thursday that initial claims for unemployment dipped slightly last week. But continued jobless claims, continued a more accurate sign of the economy’s strength, ticked up.