CINCINNATI — The coronavirus pandemic put Marla Reno out of work. Once that happened, Reno’s new job became dealing with the increasingly frustrating unemployment process in Ohio.
“Tried for about four hours one day," Reno said. “I woke up at 7 a.m. to be one of the first people who called. When I finally did get a human after being hung up on countless times, it was a volunteer worker there.”
Reno is one of a million Ohioans who have filed for unemployment since the beginning of the pandemic. Over a billion dollars in benefits has been paid out, but Reno hasn’t seen a dime yet.
After spending hours on the phone trying to get benefits through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, her claim was denied. Reno got a letter saying she either didn’t earn enough or didn’t work enough to qualify for traditional unemployment.
Even though the website kept having problems, Reno did finally get an appeal filed with JFS. She called over 30 times, and couldn’t get through to anyone who could help answer her questions.
“It's been frustrating,” Reno said.
JFS recognizes that frustration, and has been dealing with a crush of calls – averaging more than 400,000 calls a day. There are about 1,600 employees answering the phones and processing claims. Director Kimberly Hall said they are continuing to work non-stop to improve the call center and improve the system processing efficiencies.
“We will not rest until every eligible Ohioan has the benefits they need,” Hall said in an April 24 interview.
But while Reno waits on her appeal, her bills continue to mount, and she and her parents are turning to pantries to keep food on the table.
Reno said she feels like she’s fallen through the cracks.
“We're on a waiting list to even apply for that new program and they haven't told us when it will be up and running,” Reno said.
That new program that may help is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a federally funded program that allows everyone to get government assistance, including people like Reno who didn’t qualify for traditional unemployment.
Reno says she is in line for the pandemic assistance, which is reachable by calling 833-604-0774. JFS said they hope to start processing PUA claims by May 15.