After weeks of frustration, backlogged calls and customer service complaints, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Wednesday several changes coming to Ohio's unemployment filing system in the weeks ahead that are intended to improve the process and speed up the turnaround on claims.
Husted said the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has promised him that they will accomplish three things by the end of this week:
- The office will add text-to-speech capabilities.
- They will onboard an additional 337 staff members.
- They will introduce an interactive voice recognition system intended to provide answers to frequently asked questions and cut down on the number of callers who need help from an actual person.
By the end of next week, the ODJFS has promised it will:
- Launch a virtual call center to speed up the wait times for those who do need to speak to a person on staff.
- They will begin processing the additional $600 per week authorized under the federal CARES Act.
- They will launch a newly-developed online tool that will allow 10-99 self-employed workers to get in line early for unemployment filings. The ODFJS will not be able to fully process those claims until May 15, but getting in line early will expedite the process and allow workers to receive payment faster, Husted said.
- They will launch e-application improvements to help improve individual services.
To put things into perspective on the backlog struggles, Husted said, ODJFS is working from a system that was built in 2004, has no cloud capabilities and is technologically outdated. He said the system operated fine when Ohio's unemployment level was at 4% before the COVID-19 outbreak, but has since failed in the massive uptick of claims coming in.
"They have a plan to create a cloud-based system which will create more efficiencies and enable you to do things much more quickly, but that system doesn't exist right now," said Husted. "So we're in this battle with the system that we have."
ODJFS also previously had 42 people working in the unemployment call center, which was sufficient. Now, they have scaled up to 1,194 call-takers, a number director Kim Hall said will still be insufficient to handle the amount of claims coming in. As a result, the department plans to onboard more than 300 new employees.
"More claims were filed in the last month than in the last two years," said Husted.
Husted also said workers filing claims should use a "mass layoff number" of 2000180 to expedite the process of receiving unemployment aid. This code, he said, eliminates the need to verify an employer, and circumvents steps that can help speed up the process moving forward.
On May 1, Husted said ODJFS expects to be able to process applications for people who qualify to receive an additional 13 weeks of unemployment provided in the federal CARES Act.
"We, and they, hear you," said Husted. "They have added capacity, they will continue to add capacity and tech tools to help improve this. The bottom line is that this process will not stop improving until everybody is served and has reassurance that everything you're eligible for will be back-dated to that time."