It's a humbling time for Tim Proud.
Since retiring, he has taken several part-time jobs, including coaching kids in golf and serving up coffee at a Starbucks, but the pandemic has taken a lot from the Liberty Township man.
Proud is over 60 and has an underlying health condition. Instead of pouring coffee and swinging clubs with young people, these days Proud sits at a computer trying to navigate the process of receiving unemployment benefits.
Documents show Proud first applied for benefits in June. He was denied benefits through "regular" Ohio unemployment, but in late August he was granted benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. After waiting for several months to receive the money, he received notice at the beginning of February that his PUA benefits were now denied.
"I kept being assured by the people answering the phones that you’ll get it and you’ll get retro pay and then this comes along and it’s like, 'Ugh,'" Proud said.
Proud's frustration is shared by thousands of Ohioans who have struggled to get benefits, waiting on hold for sometimes hours only to have their calls answered by someone who does not seem to have the ability to address the problems with their claims.
These Ohioans now have a reason to hope for help in the next few months.
Workers from major private-sector companies are applying their experience with fraud detection and claims fulfillment to help Ohio to improve its unemployment system.
At the heart of the partnership are Ohio's biggest companies, including Western & Southern, Fifth Third and FIS. Their CEOs are members of the Ohio Business Roundtable, an organization that has worked closely with Ohio Governor Mike Dewine on business concerns stemming from the pandemic since it started in March of 2020.
In the last few weeks, employees on loan from these companies have been assessing the problems with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said Ohio Business Roundtable president and CEO Pat Tiberi.
"Our members have provided between 20 and 25 individuals that have technical experience, claims experience, and fraud experience and each of them are in these different subject matters providing expertise to the professionals at Job and Family Services," Tiberi said.
Tiberi likens the process to rebuilding a plane as it's in the air. He said the once-in-a-century pandemic hit just as Ohio was starting the year-long process of upgrading its 17-year-old unemployment system with a state-of-the-art cloud-based system.
Tiberi said the old system could handle the historically low unemployment in the state but was overwhelmed by the pandemic-related surge to historically high unemployment in 2020. The state hired a company to put in place a better system in just 30 days, he said. Then Congress added a third system for unemployment workers to navigate, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance system, which is very different, causing a lot of confusion for unemployment workers, he said.
The PUA system, designed to get a lot of money out very quickly, was well-intended but opened up the states to widespread fraud, Tiberi said.
"And so you have the perfect storm of fraud taking place, people who are trying to get legitimate claims getting stuck in this system and then you have people who are having their identity used to get claims like me," Tiberi said. "I had two people apparently try to file on mine, the governor obviously had someone file on his, the lieutenant governor did as well. There are people all over the state."
The "quarterback" of the private sector team, Jeff Ficke of Cincinnati, is retired from Fifth Third and has been working on a daily basis with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) for the last two weeks, Tiberi said.
In the meantime, Tim Proud said he is thankful he is in the position to be patient but worries about others who are worse off.
"I just feel really bad for those who are losing their homes or apartments," Proud said. "Fortunately, I’m blessed that I'm not in that situation."
If you are having trouble getting unemployment benefits and are willing to go on camera, email Julie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org.