Fraudulent claims made within Ohio’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance system cause delays in payments; 19 News helps claimants straighten out pending claims

Fraudulent claims made within Ohio’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance system cause delays in payment

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Unemployment numbers seem to be heading in the right direction across the country. According to the latest jobs report, fewer than a million Americans filed initial claims last week.

That hasn’t happened since early August.

Fraudulent claims made within Ohio’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance system cause delays in payment

Additionally, the labor department says a million fewer continued jobless claims came in last week. However, 13 million people filed for benefits at least two weeks in a row.

Here in Ohio, numbers show that claims continue to decrease, implying more people are going back to work.

But those who haven’t yet are still having trouble navigating the state’s outdated system.

And, state officials say fraudulent activity within the system has created an even bigger disruption in benefit payments.

19 News Investigators have been helping claimants since everything shut down this spring. We’ve helped dozens if not hundreds of people at this point.

Jason Townsend says he applied for relief from Ohio’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program this spring when he lost his job as a dishwasher.

“There’s a lot of times I want to just break down and punch the window down, because I can’t do what I need to do as the man of the house,” he said.

A few weeks after he began to receive payments, he says they suddenly stopped coming in.

He says his account switched to pending and he couldn’t get through to anyone in the unemployment office who could help.

“For them to have me bouncing from pillars to poles have me bouncing off the walls like I’m a pin ball or something, its not fair,” he said.

After weeks of trying to correct the issue himself, he reached out to 19 News for help.

Within hours of getting involved, he says an unemployment agent contacted him, saying the issues on his account have been corrected.

“You just don’t know, it seems like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s going through this.”

JFS Director Kim Hall says several PUA claimants have had issues like Townsend since officials realized the system was overrun with fraudulent claims.

“Again I am deeply sorry about the delay and the disruption that this has caused as a result of the criminal activity,” she said.

Hall says though the Department of Job and Family Services continues to make progress on pending claims, the numbers remain overwhelming, making it hard to get to everyone. We’ve found that’s lead many claimants to contact 19 News.

State numbers show more Ohioans have filed unemployment claims during the pandemic, than over the last four years combined.

“The volume is tremendous,” Hall said.

Hall said the state has added hundreds of call takers to handle the influx.

Plus, she herself, along with lawmakers are constantly helping troubleshoot for claimants.

She says 19 News has also helped make a difference too, over the last few months.

“It’s really all hands on deck, and I appreciate honestly that really everyone is being a supportive partner in tackling this,” she said.

Townsend said, “I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your help, because if it wasn’t for you guys i wouldn’t have gotten a response. i would still be in a state of limbo.”

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