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Ohio Bill Would Enlist Cyber Reserve to Find UI System Breaches

Some of the unemployment system’s challenges include processing large numbers of claims, protecting people’s personal information and state lawmakers not knowing the extent of the system’s operational problems.

An unemployment benefits application.
(Moab Republic/Shutterstock)
In Ohio, a recently proposed bill looks to require the Ohio Cyber Reserve to investigate possible security breaches in the state’s unemployment compensation computer network. The problem, however, might be getting enough bipartisan support to get the legislation off the ground.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t see this bill going anywhere,” the bill’s primary sponsor Rep. Jeffrey Crossman said. “The reality is I’m a Democrat deep in the super minority. The Republicans don’t seem anxious or eager to budge on that stuff.”

A couple of challenges facing the state’s 15-year-old unemployment system, bill co-sponsor Rep. Lisa Sobecki said, is not being able to process a large number of claims, protecting people’s personal information and not knowing the extent of the system’s problems.

According to the bill, members of the Ohio General Assembly have received reports from constituents that criminals are accessing legitimate users’ unemployment and benefits accounts, potentially stealing sensitive personal information.

To address this, the proposal would require the Ohio Cyber Reserve to examine the computer network the director of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) uses to administer the state’s unemployment compensation system.

It would also determine whether anyone has gained unauthorized access to the unemployment compensation system; assess the risk of an entity gaining unauthorized access in the future; look into current network security measures; and recommend measures to maintain the network’s security.

“I’ve heard from constituents — and of Ohioans — across the state who have had their benefits stolen, and it appears that Ohio’s outdated Unemployment System is partially to blame,” Sobecki said via email.

During an August meeting of the Ohio Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council, the director of ODJFS and state lawmakers sat down to discuss these issues, including topics such as unemployment waivers.

“I’ve had many constituents who are in the middle of appealing determination of overpayment and do not want to request a waiver because they actually believe they are owed money, but they received a waiver notice,” Sen. Teresa Fedor said. “What are the implications of filing for a waiver when you are in the middle of an overpayment appeal? Could it impact their appeal decision?”

ODJFS Director Matt Damschroder responded that the waiver process retriggers the review of someone’s claim, so if someone is undergoing the appeal process, the council will look at the case and make a decision based on the information provided.

Sen. Fedor then asked a follow-up question regarding the slow process of addressing overpayment waiver cases.

“Many states used the blanket waiver available, and since we are looking at nearly 1 million cases that we are going to have to individually look at, it seems to me by not doing a blanket waiver, we are causing our own chaos,” Fedor said. “Is it possible to apply for a blanket waiver instead of going through maybe two years of a million people to get this adjudicated?”

The answer, Damschroder said, is “the framework for unemployment systems is a federal framework, and then state rules and laws exist within that. So the process that we’ve put together for our waiver complies with the federal rules and regulations as well as state law, and so we’ve gone as far as we can go within that framework.”

Following the meeting, Rep. Crossman said he was alarmed by some of the responses to these issues and citizens’ testimonies.

“If you look at most of the issues done with PUAs, PUAs are people that have never applied for unemployment, they’re the subcontractor, the self-employed, etc.,” Sen. Bob Hackett said. “We even saw from Lisa’s person who testified last week that it’s hard for them because they’ve never done it before so a lot of the mistakes that are made in the PUA system were mistakes actually made by the participants; and I’m not blaming them, I’m just saying they didn’t know how to do it.”

However, Crossman said that despite these comments, he and the bill’s co-sponsor, Sobecki, plan to move forward with the bill to assist Ohioans dealing with these types of issues.

“I sent over a letter to the director of Job and Family Services with a request for public records to provide more information regarding JFS’s effort to secure citizens’ sensitive information,” Crossman said, “but I haven’t heard back yet.”
Katya Maruri is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.
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