Checking his bank account again, Brandon Keller is down to his last $141.
He felt like he had just two choices after months with no one to help him access $12,000 in unemployment benefits he says he earned: sue Kentucky all by himself, or possibly face homelessness.
“I'm the main provider for the family of five. I have three young children and also a wife," he said.
Keller, who lives in Cincinnati and worked in Newport, Kentucky, claims the state is holding his earned unemployment benefits, and he can't get anyone on the phone to try to free the money up.
“It's terrifying,” he said. “I don't know what I'm doing. I'm not a lawyer."
His struggle started last March, after he was laid off from his catering manager job in Newport due to the pandemic.
Then in September, he said, Kentucky started denying his benefits because he lives in Ohio. In October, he said the state denied his appeal, so he appealed again.
“I even had my employer call and say I am off due to the pandemic,” Keller said.
Come February, the unemployment office reviewed his appeal. The referee said he does qualify for $1,600 in Lost Wages Assistance funds, but the money for that program ran out in December.
While the referee said Keller was entitled to unemployment benefits, that appeal was in a different process.
“What do I do? Legal Aid of Ohio can't help because it's in Kentucky; Legal Aid of Kentucky won't help me because I live in Ohio,” Keller said. “So, I literally took $87 of my last $400 and decided to sue them in small claims court because it's all I could afford."
Next month, he is scheduled to go before a judge and argue his case alone because a larger court would require an attorney.
He hopes a small claims court can force the state to pay him his $1,600 in Lost Wages Assistance funds. He hopes his efforts will get someone to look at his case and get the state to free up his $12,000 in back pay.
“Somebody needs to help us, because there's a lot of people hurting right now, and they have nowhere to turn,” Keller said.
A Kentucky unemployment spokesperson wrote to WCPO that they have a record of Keller's case so he can be considered if additional money becomes available for the Lost Wages Assistance Program, and the state won't comment further on his situation.