Unemployment problems still plaguing residents in Kentucky and Ohio

Posted at 5:29 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 21:04:18-05

Nearly one year after the beginning of statewide economic shutdowns in Kentucky and Ohio, residents in both states are still fighting the state's system to get the benefits they need to survive and care for their children.

"It's just basic needs that we are looking for," said Sarah Hess, a self-employed performer who works at festivals like the Ohio Renaissance Festival, which was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. "We aren't asking for anything extravagant. We're just looking to get by."

She said Ohio flagged her unemployment benefits as fraudulent nearly four months ago, leaving her with no benefits to support herself and her 5-year-old son.

"My son actually would see how stressed out I was, and so he's gotten to the point where he's been asking, 'Mommy, are you happy? Mommy, are you angry? Are you worried?' and it breaks my heart because that's not a child's job to worry about a parent," she said.

Online, both state's websites say residents should file in the state in which they worked, but Mary Faith Colon said she did that and was denied by both states in September. The 66-year-old said she worked three customer service jobs in both Ohio and Kentucky and was receiving benefits until both states denied her and told her she'd have to sue them for it -- which she cannot afford to do.

"So what you're saying is, I should just die," said Colon. "You're not going to have money to buy groceries and you're not going to have money to heat your house."

When she posed this concern to someone on the phone in Ohio, she said they hung up on her.

Matthew Games said he calls Kentucky Unemployment Services 50 times some days, and is also often hung up on.

"I don't know how I'm going to pay my rent in a couple of weeks," he said.

He lost his job in April 2020 because of the pandemic and lost his unemployment benefits in October.

"I had a couple job interviews and I thought things might be looking up, but I just found out as of Friday I didn't get either one of those jobs," said Games.

According to research and reporting done by WCPO anchor Julie O'Neil, Ohio's private sector plans to step in later in the week to help.

"As we speak there are people who are in the private sector volunteering to go in, see what the issues are and figure out how to make this system better," said O'Neil. "So the wheels are turning to get help."

In Kentucky, a spokesperson took down information for sources interviewed for this story and said they would reach out.