State working to eliminate PUA system issues that are blocking unemployed Ohioans from receiving benefits

State working to eliminate PUA system issues that are blocking unemployed Ohioans from benefits

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said more than 80,000 people have applied to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

However, after launching the brand new application system this week, some people are already having issues with their claims.

The PUA system was created to provide benefits to self-employed or part-time workers who don’t qualify for regular unemployment.

We discovered many of those people had already submitted a claim through the regular unemployment website, though, and that’s the reason some of them are stuck tonight.

Nicole Scipio called 19 News investigators out of desperation.

“It’s the difference between keeping the lights on and not,” Scipio said. “I don’t know where to go for help.”

She was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26, which forced her to close her tax preparation business.

“I feel like I did what I was supposed to do but, what I was promised with unemployment would happen didn’t happen,” Scipio said. “I feel like they didn’t hold up their end.”

Scipio should qualify for the newly launched PUA program, because she is self-employed.

However, she tried to submit an application Tuesday but couldn’t.

“I have a family to support,” Scipio said.

Scipio has worked several jobs to supplement her self-employed income, she received one payment from regular unemployment. Then she started getting a “break in claim” notice.

She figured it was because she needed to apply for PUA instead.

When she did, the PUA system recognized that the regular claims aren’t closed and the PUA system told her she was ineligible for that reason.

Worst of all, she can’t get through to talk to anyone to straighten the situation out.

“I’m stuck in this hole between unemployment and [PUA], and I can’t be the only person in this hole,” she said.

She’s not.

19 News is hearing from others with the same issue.

We brought the concern to ODJFS directors today.

The directors said they are aware of the problem, but are still looking for a fix.

In the meantime, they said they’re still grappling with a crushing call volume.

ODJFS leaders said nearly 300,000 calls came in this past Tuesday alone.

Only about 70,000 of them were answered.

That's less than 25 percent of callers getting the help they so desperately need.

ODJFS says at least 15,000 people have already been approved for the PUA.

They will get an amount calculated based on their income, plus the additional $600 provided in the CARES act.

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