HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Widowed just before the pandemic hit, Mary Eldridge of Highland Heights found out very quickly how overwhelming life can be for a single parent amid a pandemic.
Forced to homeschool her son, who has autism and whose school still has remote learning, Eldridge has needed unemployment benefits, and her struggle to get them has been an all too familiar one.
In June, Eldridge says she first applied for benefits in Kentucky, since this is where she lives currently.
“I went online and applied and it kept saying you’re denied, call this number," Eldridge said. "I called the number, the number would say ‘the queue is full, your number has been saved and somebody will get back to you.’ Well that went on for about eight months. Nobody ever answered.”
Finally, at the beginning of March, Eldridge applied for benefits in Ohio on the advice of a friend. Eldridge still lived in Ohio the first six months of 2020. She said she and her husband, Robert, had a home and business in Ohio before he died of cancer in October of 2019.
“I uploaded everything that they asked for," Eldridge said. "I told them everything and then all of a sudden I get a message that’s saying it’s flagged for fraud."
Eldridge says the messages have since changed, but are confusing, and she has been unable to get through to a person to explain where she is in the process of getting benefits.
Right now Eldridge says she and her son are barely getting by on her late husband’s social security benefits, despite his trying so hard to prepare her for life without him when he became sick.
“He actually bought me a big tool box and he would teach me how to fix certain things so I could always be self-sufficient,” Eldridge said. “We actually arranged it so I could go back to college and receive a certificate in Microsoft office so I could make sure I could become the main bread winner, but we did not plan on this pandemic."
Eldridge says she tries to stay positive, as her husband would encourage her to, but it has been difficult as her wait for help lingers on.
“I get scared, because the rent is going to go up now, groceries are going up, gas is going up and I’m frightened,” she said.
At WCPO's request, Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services has agreed to have a specialist look at Eldridge’s case. This week ODJFS brought in a new interim leader. A spokesperson said he is not yet ready to give interviews on how the state is progressing in its new public/private partnership to improve the state’s unemployment system.
Last week Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear encouraged Kentuckians with unemployment problems to sign up for virtual interviews. WCPO is hearing from people who report they can not make an appointment because the schedule is full.
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If you are struggling to receive unemployment benefits and are willing to go on camera, email Julie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org.