Director says Ohio’s unemployment system is better, but still not good enough to handle a surge of claims like we saw in March

Updated: Nov. 19, 2020 at 7:13 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The latest numbers from the State of Ohio show another increase in unemployment claims.

Ohioans filed almost 25,000 initial jobless claims last week. That’s about 3,000 more than the week before.

Keep in mind; this is all before the governor’s curfew announcement this week.

To put it all in perspective, the state says it’s paid out more unemployment claims during the pandemic than it did in the previous four years combined.

So, will the Governor’s new curfew curb enough cases of coronavirus to prevent even more people from losing their jobs?

If not, there could be another shutdown.

Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services Director Kim Hall says, “It is not unreasonable to think about what we would do with another surge of claims.”

She gave an honest and straight forward answer about what would happen if the unemployment system is flooded with claims like when the pandemic broke out.

“Although we are better prepared than we were last winter, our system is not set up to handle in a fully timely manner the level of unemployment claims that we saw in March,” she said.

It’s a potentially messy situation many Ohioans do not want to get themselves into again.

Kimberly Flaherty owns a gym called AOK Fitness. She says the high unemployment rate has impacted her immensely since this spring.

“I point-blank have had people who called to cancel because they didn’t have the money,” she said.

She says she’d been gaining momentum the last few months, but the talk of another shut down’s already affecting her business. People she’s talking to are now less willing to commit to a membership.

She says one guest told her, “I really want to join, but if you get shut down again, are you going to take my money?”

Flaherty fears she wouldn’t make it if she had to shut down again and hates to even think about the fact that she’d probably have to apply for unemployment assistance.

“It makes you feel mentally like a failure,” she said.

The state doesn’t want to see people lose their jobs if they don’t have to.

Ohio’s unemployment fund ran out this summer, so the state’s currently borrowing more and more money from the federal government to pay out the claims that continue to come in.

Experts say that will likely cause business taxes to increase in the future, thus making your goods and services down the road.

“The preference will be to balance the public health with our economic interests as well,” Hall said.

Hall says the state doesn’t know how many Ohioans will lose jobs under the new curfew.

“It will remain to be seen,” she said.

Hall says she hasn’t been told to prepare for a shutdown situation. However, her office has been for some time just in case.

“We have learned much since assisting Ohioans since March 15,” she said.

Since then, she says the state extended call hours, increased it’s server’s capacity, implemented new training for employees, and added a quicker text to file option.

Plus, she says the office is prepared to add 300 more call takers to the robust crew she’s already increased significantly since March.

The office has even been able to shift employees where they’re needed most.

For example, 75 more workers work Mondays now, knowing that’s the day the most calls come in.

Yet still, the harsh reality of it is that it could potentially still not be enough.

“If there is a similar spike in claims, some Ohioans will again experience delays getting through to our system,” Hall said.

We also have an unemployment-related phishing scam we need to warn you about now.

The state says some Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants are getting messages branded to look like it’s from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

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