Facing a coronavirus-fueled deluge of over 500,000 calls to its unemployment hotline each day, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has partnered with Amazon to automate parts of its phone system — meaning every call will be answered, albeit not always by a human being.
Even that “was a significant challenge,” JFS director Kimberly Hall said in a remote news conference Friday afternoon. The volume of incoming calls had been so significant “our clients were experiencing, as they tried to engage, calls were being dropped. They couldn't even get through to the automated system.”
The process of improving the hotline is a non-stop task, Hall added. Her department has processed over a million new unemployment claims since the start of March, and the state has paid more than $979 million to the 400,000-odd applicants whose claims were approved. Around 110,000 more claims remain pending.
Although many callers will speak with a robot before they hear a real person’s voice, the hotline has shored up its flesh-and-blood resources, too. About 1,200 people answer phones at Job and Family Services, according to Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.
Speaking Friday, Hall encouraged Ohioans who had struggled to access the unemployment system before to keep calling and keep track of their claim.
“We will not rest until every eligible Ohioan has the benefits they need,” she said.