More Ohioans have filed for unemployment in four weeks than in the past two years combined and then some according to the latest figures from Ohio Job and Family Services.
And, even more Ohioans will be added to the unemployment rolls now that clearer guidance is available on the new programs created by the cares act.
Director Kimberly Hall addressed reporters on Thursday, providing clarification on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program or PUA and whether employees who make less than $269 would qualify.
“It’s been an effort to get that clarity from the federal government but we have that now, so they would be eligible under the PUA,” says Hall.
The legislation was signed March 27th, and Ohio had to wait for guidance on how to administer the programs. During that period, there was confusion on how PUA would cover employees displaced from work by COVID-19, and who would be included.
Hall’s clarification was news by many, who have been waiting for a direct answer on how CARES act would benefit them.
“It’s not just 1099, so there has been a discussion and it’s kind of been cast as it’s just 1099,” explains Hall. “PUA is for 1099, people who were not previously eligible who were affected by COVID-19, it’s a huge group.”
Demand for unemployment benefits continues as many workers hit a month without work.
The state reported 158,678 claims last week ending on April 11th. The 4-week claim total in Ohio now just over 855,197.
Nationwide, 22 million Americans have become unemployed due to COVID-19.
This week, state officials worked to reassure Ohioans growing increasingly frustrated with waiting.
“This process will not stop improving until everybody is served, and the reassurance that everything that you’re eligible for will be backdated to that time,” said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who faced multiple questions regarding unemployment over the past several weeks.
Hall also provided more details on the rollout of the new PUA system, which will be built by Deloitte.
First payments are expected to go out in mid-May, but Ohio will begin accepting applications for pua beginning next week. Other states have already begun this process. Kentucky, for instance, was able to use similar reasoning for PUA that was applied for disaster unemployment. That enabled them to register PUA applicants more quickly, despite having comparable demand to Ohio.
“It’s really an opportunity for individuals who are eligible for this system to get in and apply,” says Hall. “We will have the call center partnership.”
That partnership includes adding a virtual call center. The vendor is not yet public but Hall says she is hoping to release that information next week along with filing instructions.
“Because even when you apply online, just like now, people are going to need to call, pick up the phone and they’ll have a question,” says Hall. “So we have to make sure there is the call center support capability coupled with opening up this early application time period.”
Ohio is also set to begin paying the extra $600 in Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation beginning April 20th to regular UI claimants.
But, there is still a gap between the amount of claims in the system, and those paid out by JFS – roughly 271k claimants – fewer than 32% of total claims.
“We have to go through each of those claims case by case, one by one, to understand what the challenge is, fix it and keep moving forward,
Hall says the first challenge was getting people filed, now as claims have built up, they’re moving resources to help with processing.
“As you know we have scaled up with our team that is answering phones, as more new people come in, we’re able to transition more individuals into processing claims,” says Hall. “And that is a 1-on-1 interaction, that’s calling the claimant, that’s emails.”
And they hope that the new system to come will help lessen the burden on the old system. Hall says the call center as received 8M calls since the pandemic began.
“Our expectation is that as we stand up our additional call center supports, that processing will happen much more rapidly,” says Hall.
The state is still working out what the base benefit amount will be under the PUA program, but estimates are around 160 dollars. And, those filers will also get the additional $600 under CARES act.