Ohio Governor Taps Private Sector to Fix Jobless Aid System

Faced with a deluge of complaints from Ohioans who've struggled to navigate the state's unemployment compensation system, Gov. Mike DeWine said private industry has lent the state 16 of its experts to help.

The Ohio Statehouse at dawn in Columbus.
The Ohio Statehouse at dawn.
Shutterstock/Sean Pavone
(TNS) — Faced with a deluge of complaints from Ohioans who've struggled to navigate the state's unemployment compensation system, Gov.  Mike DeWine  on Thursday announced that private industry has lent the state 16 of its experts to help right the ship.

The state's information technology system for jobless benefits has struggled to accommodate changes made by programming by the federal government and has been inundated by fraudulent claims tied to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for self-employed, contract, and other non-traditional workers.

"I don't think it's any reflection on state employees than we have to go out into the private sector to help deal with a huge, huge emergency that has not occurred in most people's lifetimes...,"  Mr. DeWine  said. "...The state has not invested frankly in the past in the technology...

"It's not just true of this department," he said. "It's true in many departments...It just so happens that this department, because of the unemployment claims [and] because of the nature of the pandemic, got hit a lot harder than other departments."

He said the state could perhaps use more than the 16 people whose services are being volunteered by financial and insurance companies with expertise in information technology, customer service, and fraud.

Kim Henderson , director of the Department of Job and Family Services, said that everyone who is eligible for additional weeks of unemployment claims as approved by Congress in late December — as well as the $300 extra in weekly federal payments — should be receiving what they're due by the end of February.

"So far this week, we have paid out nearly $100 million to more than 110,000 Ohioans receiving traditional unemployment,"  Mr. DeWine  said. That number includes traditional benefits plus the additional $300.

Sen.  Teresa Fedor  (D., Toledo) and Rep.  Lisa Sobecki  (D., Toledo) recently sent a letter to the leaders of their respective chambers, urging them to immediately convene a recently created council to look into the problems.

"Ohioans are suffering and some of the problems with Ohio's unemployment system are unacceptable,"  Ms. Sobecki  said. "Not just my constituents, but all Ohioans are wondering, why the council hasn't met. They haven't even named a council chair. This hurts Ohioans across the entire state. It is unacceptable that they are dragging their feet."

Ohio on Thursday reported receiving 47,786 initial claims last week, down slightly from the week before but still generally reflected the high numbers seen in recent weeks. In all, nearly 2.3 million Ohioans have sought unemployment benefits since the start of the pandemic nearly a year ago.

At the moment, the state is targeting those over the age of 70 as well as employees of K-12 schools that have committed to having in-classroom instruction by March 1. But the state's efforts have been hampered by the amounts of vaccine the state receives each week.

The state will lower the age threshold to age 65 next week and is then expected to hold there for a while.

The governor said manufacturer Pfizer has told him it expects to increase output by 40 percent by mid-February.

"This should mean that Ohio's doses should increase by this much around the same time,"  Mr. DeWine  said.

He also said that Pfizer expects shipments to Ohio to double current levels by the end of March. It is currently shipping about 73,000 doses to Ohio each week.

The maker of the only other vaccine approved for use so far in the United StatesModerna, has increased doses to Ohio from 73,200 two weeks ago to 105,600 expected next week.

Ohio reported 4,120 new coronavirus cases Thursday, dragging the 21-day average below 5,000 for the first time in weeks. The state has reached a total of 910,847 cases and 11,509 deaths, according to the Department of Health. Seventy-nine of those deaths were reported Thursday, which is above the 21-day average of 72.

The number of Ohioans who have been vaccinated, 935,383, now exceeds the number of people known to have contracted the disease in the state. Eight percent of the state's population has received at least one shot.

The number of coronavirus patients in Ohio's hospitals also continues to drop. It was at 2,252 on Thursday.

If that trend continues over the next week,  Mr. DeWine  said he would push the state's current curfew back an hour to midnight or lift it altogether.

(c)2021 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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