HARRISON, Ohio — In the past six months, Tammy Simendinger of Harrison lost her mother to COVID 19 and fought the virus herself -- all while she battled to get unemployment benefits to keep her family afloat.
It was Aug. 9, 2020 when the harshest reality of the pandemic hit the Simendinger home. Tammy got a call from her previously healthy, active 77-year-old mother, Crystal Baumann.
Something wasn't right, so Simendinger took her mother to the ER.
”That was the last time I saw her,” Simendinger said.
COVID-19 rules prevented Simendinger from comforting her mother as she suffered and died in the hospital, but just getting her mother to the hospital led to Simendinger contracting COVID 19, she said.
“I could not breathe. I had the sweats, the fever,” Simendinger said. “We had to postpone the funeral until I recovered.”
Still, Simendinger said, she continued working for the U.S. Census Bureau from home.
“I lost my job of 22 years in 2019 so I took the job with the census as a filler,” Simendinger said.
Simendinger also worked to get her insurance license to prepare for future employment during this time, but with the demands of having two children back and forth with at-home learning, she said, she had to rely on unemployment insurance. She said she has accrued 13 weeks of benefits, but she and other co-workers have received no payments.
“I’ve been filing every week. I’ve not gotten a single notice from them that my claim’s been approved…or that it’s proceeding,” Simendinger said.
She said she has been told by phone her claim requires a special supervisor, but the number to call has bounced her back to the main queue and she has not been able to get the right person on the phone after calling repeatedly and sitting on hold for hours.
“Because of being a federal employee, apparently it is like a higher-level security that we can’t find who we need to talk to,” Simendinger said. “It’s kind of like this mysterious special department that’s supposed to help us that nobody can reach.”
Simendinger said she understood that Ohio’s unemployment office is backlogged with the unexpected surge, but said she hoped someone would intervene to help families that are struggling.
“Basically, you know, we’re people and we’re all going through different issues that are stresses in our lives, and just having the safety net of having unemployment insurance to help us get through is so important,” Simendinger said. “We realize they weren’t prepared for this pandemic. Nobody was. But we need to make sure that the people who are counting on unemployment to help them get through this rough time can get it.”
Ohio Job and Family Services agreed to look into cases brought to the agency by WCPO that seem to have fallen through the cracks. Simendinger’s case has been added to that list, and she recently received an email that said she would soon be receiving payments.
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