DEER PARK, Ohio — A father of two says he's not only being denied unemployment benefits, he's now being told he owes the state money after a simple form error.
Last year, Stephen Romano was working hard for his two boys. He was approved to buy a new house, but when the pandemic hit in March, his company was forced to lay him off.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Romano said.
Now, Romano and his boys are living in his father’s basement. They work behind the glow of their screens -- one on homework, the little one playing video games and Dad battling for unemployment benefits.
“[On] the news, and everyone was like, 'They’re saying there’s a delay, just hold on, you’ll get it, everyone’s going to get it,'" Romano said.
Romano said he did start getting benefit checks by the end of June and was told he would get back pay for all the weeks prior. Romano still received no back pay after three months and said his claim was denied.
“October I got a hold of somebody who said, ‘Well, we’re going to have to cancel your claim and redo it from the day you’re supposed to get it, so we’ll be in contact. Don’t freak out if your claim is denied,’” Romano said.
They offered him a hearing by phone but Romano said he missed it because he got a busy signal, so he had to appeal.
“Answered all the questions as to why I missed the interview to end up getting an email that states, ‘Sorry, your claim has been denied all together. There’s no record of you calling in,’” Romano said.
And now Romano has learned another problem stems from him filling in the “illness or injury" section of the online form.
Under “nature of your illness or injury” Romano put “COVID-19” -- meaning he was laid off because of the pandemic. It appears Ohio’s Office of Unemployment Insurance thought he had the virus and denied him because “nothing from a physician was received.”
“Yeah, a complete denial, and I owe them over $13,000 dollars in back pay,” Romano said.
Apparently, all because of a mistake on a form.
“There’s no training on it. You know you’re not taught in school when you get laid off you have to fill out a claim [on] this is what you do. They just expect you to know,” Romano said.
Romano did find work in the fall but said it will never get him out of the hole and into that house he wanted to buy for his boys.
“They’re managing. I mean, children are not supposed to know about your finances. They’re not supposed to know there’s a struggle,” Romano said.
“It hadn’t been for the fact that I got this new job, I really would be up that famous creek without a paddle.”
Ohio Job and Family Services told WCPO they cannot comment on specific cases. They did agree, though, to reach out to Romano by email.
The number of people applying for unemployment in the U.S. rose last week to 965,000, the most since late August. Ohio numbers also show a steep jump with more than 37,000 initial jobless claims filed for the week ending Jan. 9. That's the highest number of weekly claims in a month, with a 25% jump from last week.