What Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana have done to improve unemployment systems

Unemployment Benefits
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-03 19:06:02-04

CINCINNATI — Unemployment insurance systems in our region continue to fail families more than a year since pandemic job loss skyrocketed.

As part of our commitment, we are working to hold state leaders accountable and help you get the money you have earned.

People are getting evicted," said Regina Campbell, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. "People are losing their cars. People are losing their homes. It’s injustice to the highest degree.”

Campbell is one of the people in Ohio who has successfully freed up money when Ohio Jobs and Family Services denied people benefits.

“What I will say about these unemployment cases is: They never seem to end," she said. "Because people apply, and then we help them submit their documents. And then, they get approved. And then, JFS sends them another identification document. And then, it gets stalled again.”

Two main things are causing the current backlog: Scam artists who filed claims in other people’s names and states that have mistakenly flagged people for fraud to combat the criminals. The states then stopped sending checks.

From the perspective of people just trying to get their claims taken care of, getting someone on the phone has been a feat in and of itself.

“The pendulum has swung so far in the other direction to try to prevent fraud,” Campbell said.

Ohio’s solutions to shrink the number of people stuck in the system consist of more staff, private businesses partnered with JFS to solve technology problems, the state streamlining of the judgment process and the use of internet tools that already exist to verify identities.

“We greatly increased the number of calls that are answered, and we’re now using Experian and LexisNexis technology to verify the identity of unemployment applicants, which has greatly reduced the number of fraudulent applications,” said Matt Damschroder, interim director of the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

Damschroder told lawmakers ata budget hearing that claims for federal supplements fell 65 percent and state claims dropped 45 percent.

According to Kentucky Workforce, it opened 11 career centers in April to provide in-person help. Plus, the state hired people to work in a new call center.

But in Indiana, Department of Workforce DevelopmentSpokesperson Scott Olsen said, “To be honest, we haven’t had to resort to any of that.”

He said Indiana updated its system in 2010, allowing it to handle the pandemic overload and quickly build a programto divvy out Federal Cares Act money.

Ohio Jobs and Family Services has revealed the most changes to us, and Gov. Mike DeWine was quick to discuss it one-on-one with Reporter Courtney Francisco. She has been able to helpviewers stuck in the system obtain tens of thousands of dollars in back pay from states since the pandemic began.

“We feel bad for anybody who didn’t get their unemployment when they should have gotten it,” said Gov. DeWine. "Anybody who’s been hurt by it, I apologize to them. We’re doing everything that we can to fix it. We’ve made a lot of progress. We’re not to where we should be yet, but we will certainly get there.”

The Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati says the solution to the main problem in states everywhere is getting more people to verify documents of those flagged for fraud.

“Because people have been waiting months for that to happen,” Campbell said. “While they’re waiting, they’re not getting paid.”

She said the only advice she can give to people to help themselves is to keep calling customer service lines.

“Just keep calling,” Campbell said. “That is terrible advice. It is frustrating advice. It is unsatisfying advice, but that’s the only way.”