CINCINNATI — You would probably remember Patty Blackburn if she ever took your ticket, whether you were getting into a Reds game or going to see a show at the Aronoff Center. She has enjoyed those jobs for years, and her enthusiasm is contagious.
“I love people, and I love the adult interaction,” Blackburn said, admitting the solitude of the pandemic has been tough for her as an extrovert.
Since the Reds started playing ball in front of fans again, she is finally working and earning some income; although, she's still waiting for the shows to “go on” at the Aronoff, which has been her primary job for 17 years.
It's been a long 13 months since March 2020, when Blackburn started the process of applying for unemployment benefits after the pandemic first closed down big public venues.
Since then, she has had to endure the lackluster performance of the suddenly overburdened Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
ODJFS interim director Matt Damschroder pointed to a sharp spike in cases at the start of the pandemic, from which the department has yet to recover.
“In the space of one week, our weekly call volumes jumped from 20,000 to 500,000, and the number of claims increased by nearly 2,700%,” he said last month at an Ohio Senate hearing. “Our system, which was built for the equivalent of a normal annual rainfall, was not prepared for a 500-year flood.”
Blackburn said she did receive a couple of months of benefit payments over the summer, but in November her account was flagged for fraud, a major problem for ODJFS.
“They asked me to submit my driver’s license, my passport, my electric bill, my income taxes from ’18-’19. I had submitted everything that they had asked for,” said Blackburn. “I even called in November when this happened, and they confirmed they had everything they needed.”
Blackburn said she called and emailed ODJFS about her benefits regularly and was shocked when she received a notice denying her benefits in April.
“I got a letter saying that I was denied unemployment because I didn’t turn my earnings in,” said Blackburn. "Then I did an appeal and turned them in again, and I still have not heard back.”
Blackburn said she has had to live off of her Social Security and credit cards for more than six months now and is also owed numerous weeks of back pay from March of 2020 to mid-summer. She also said she has tried to reach out to ODJFS to report that the state’s calculation of what she is entitled is “way more” than what she is actually owed, but she has not been able to speak to someone who can fix the problem.
“They can’t transfer you to a supervisor, and you get a different answer almost every time,” said Blackburn. “A couple of times we were disconnected, and I’d call back and wait an hour or so to get on and then the lady would say, 'Oh, I don’t see where she did it, but I’ll do it for you. So it’s been very frustrating.”
Blackburn said she is hopeful the staff at ODJFS will get caught up quickly so she can get caught up.
“If I ever get the backdating money, I’m just going to take that and automatically just put it on the credit cards to get them paid back down,” said Blackburn.
Blackburn said she worries more for people who have no way at all to pay their rent or mortgages.
ODJFS has agreed to look at special cases like Blackburn’s brought to the agency’s attention by WCPO 9 News.
Email Julie at email@example.com if you would like to talk to her about telling your unemployment story.