88 failed phone calls, or why Ohio’s unemployment system still can’t keep up

Updated: Mar. 26, 2020 at 7:09 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - For many in the Tri-State, it’s been difficult to file for unemployment through Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

For some, it’s been impossible.

Pam Laremore is a local chef. She says she was laid off March 16. Since then, Laremore says she’s grown familiar – perhaps too familiar – with the sound of the automated ODJFS phone system.

“Today alone, I’ve called 88 times,” Laremore told FOX19 NOW Thursday.

Sean Early says he started trying to file a claim on Tuesday and hasn’t spoken to a real person yet either.

“I just kept calling the number, calling the number, calling the number, over and over again," Early explained. “I must have called it over 140 times.”

Both Early and Laremore say they tried going through the website before resorting to the phone line.

“You get online to apply and pages won’t load," Laremore said. “The site crashes, you got to start all over again.”

Related | Ohio’s jobless claims highest in nearly 4 decades

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said Thursday the state is actively working to fix the website issues: “They’re adding servers and building capacity to make sure we are serving you. We know that not everybody is getting served at the pace that the demand requires, but you should know they are working through that."

ODJFS has also shifted 300 employees to start answering the phone lines, Husted explained.

An ODJFS spokesperson replying to FOX19 NOW questions Thursday added:

“We have been working nonstop to streamline system performance and boost capacity by adding servers and hardware so the online claims system can handle the unprecedented influx of claims. Our system, previously configured for a typical maximum of 1,200 connections at one time, has now been enhanced to accommodate up to 24,000 simultaneous connections. This has allowed significantly more Ohioans to successfully access the system than during the initial days of this crisis.

"We’ve even brought back retirees who were subject matter experts during the 2008 recession when we had an uptick in the number of claims -- although far, far below our current number of claims -- to offer any tips that worked back then to speed up processing times of the 16-year-old system.”

Early is still concerned.

“It says that you have to be done by Saturday at midnight, you have to be filed for this week to even count," she said. “Once they get past that date, then I can’t even register for this week, and it’s a whole lost week of pay.”

Husted said that will not stop folks from getting benefits: “They will make that retroactive. Just because you don’t get through today, or if there was a delay, know that they will make the benefit retroactive to the time that you qualified for it."

Laremore says she wishes she was not in this situation.

“I don’t want to collect an unemployment check. I want to go back to work, but I also don’t want to risk getting people sick in order to go back to work.”

Husted is urging people who have encountered issues to continue trying to file a claim.

The ODJFS spokesperson added:

“They may want to consider filing during off-peak hours. While we had a record number of claims ever filed in a week over the last week, one day this week we had our highest one-day total of initial jobless claims ever filed.

"In other words, the number of claims doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Ohioans are experiencing a slow system trying to keep up with demand, just like every other online claims system across the country, so we are asking filers and callers to be patient.”

The number to call if you don’t have computer access is 1-877-644-6562. Call 1-866-962-4064 for PIN resets.

Most people can expect to receive a benefit payment within 7 to 10 days of applying if the use the mass-layoff number and they’re otherwise eligible, according to ODJFS.

The requirement for people to be “actively seeking work” has been waived for the duration of the pandemic, the spokesperson added.


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