CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Phones are ringing off the hook again in Ohio’s unemployment office again as people try to navigate the implications of the nation’s new stimulus bill.
Many people are yet again complaining they can’t get through to an agent.
It’s a complaint we started to see less in recent months as the state updated its system and added hundreds of call takers.
But now, the call volume is challenging again, according to Ohio Jobs and Family Services Director Kim Henderson.
“We continue to endeavor to address the surge in call volume,” Henderson said.
She says the state’s added hundreds of workers in recent months.
The goal is to have 1900 call takers by March, which is nearly four times the 453 people they had answering phones when the pandemic hit last March.
“At the same time we have had external circumstances that have driven call volume up,” she said.
Henderson says people are still calling after fraud within the unemployment system caused so many accounts to be frozen.
And, she says tons of other people are calling with questions about how the new stimulus bill will impact their benefits, which can be different in each case.
“So, while we have scaled up, call volume has also increased,” Henderson said.
Unfortunately, that call load doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.
Jessica Duffy says she’s had no choice but to deal with the system in recent months because her hours working as a server have been cut significantly amid the pandemic.
Duffy says with each month that passes and each new stimulus bill, the claims process gets more and more confusing.
She says with so many new hires working the phone lines, it’s hard to know what you’re truly eligible for and how to get it.
“It’s really frustrating because you have to spend your whole day on the phone with somebody that potentially can’t help you. Then, you have to call back tomorrow and hope that you get somebody who is educated and can help you,” she said.
Henderson says the new stimulus bill will not impact people on regular unemployment.
However, big changes are coming to make sure the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is more secure.
Right now, the state is in the process of programming the system to include now mandatory employment and identity verification steps.
For that reason, the system is not accepting new PUA claims right now. So, if you’re having a problem filing, Henderson says not to panic.
She says the benefits will be retroactive when the system goes back live.
She’s hoping that happens by the third week of January.
That’s also when the state hopes to start sending out the additional $300 a week provided in the new bill.
Right now, about two dozen states are already sending out that additional payment. Ohio cannot yet, because the software is being updated.
“It’s just very stressful, and people need this money. It’s survival money,” Duffy said.
Even in a normal environment, Henderson says it’s important to remember that the claims process is not an over night one.
Henderson says the department of labor standard is to have a claim processed in 21 days. It’s longer than that right now though, because of the high volume.
She says the state is trying to help answer questions in other ways than just on the phone.
There is more information on the website, and email addresses you can use to contact JFS.