Ohio’s unemployment crisis: Who’s accountable? And is anyone holding them accountable?

Council created months ago to help reform system hasn’t met once
Updated: Feb. 5, 2021 at 5:03 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Wait time problems, delays in receiving benefits, outdated technology, and hundreds of millions of dollars, sent to criminals. Ohio’s unemployment system has its share of problems. Who’s to blame? Some point the finger at Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services head Kimberly Henderson. Others say the state legislature dropped the ball years ago when it could have improved the system. One thing the state legislature did do, was to create the Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council.

On May 12th, as tens of thousands of Ohioans were going through the painstaking struggle to get through to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services department to find out where their benefits were, State Representatives Tracy Richardson of Marysville and Mark Fraizer of Newark were introducing House Bill 614.

“It expresses the legislature’s intent to study and reform the application, processing and administration of Ohio’s unemployment system,” Rep. Richardson said. “In short, how do we improve our system so that it is better and more responsive for the people of Ohio?”

“We view H.B. 614 as an opportunity to learn what went wrong and where we can make improvements to the actual system,” Rep. Fraizer said.

A few weeks later, the bill would come to include a proposed Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council. The council would:

  • Evaluate the claim filing process, response times and technological infrastructure
  • It would require ODJFS Director Kimberly Henderson to create a written, strategic staffing plan.
  • It would require the state auditor to create a report.
  • Have a report of recommendations ready six months after its first meeting.

After 10 hearings in front of two committees, House Bill 614 passed in September, and on October 1, the Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council became official.

It would include 11 members: three from the House, three from the Senate, Director Henderson, two members representing employers, and two members representing labor.

Four and a half months later, the council has not met once.

Representative Fraizer said the group waited to meet, because of the reorganizing that happens with the general assembly between October and January. He also acknowledges that unemployment is not the only issue legislators are working on.

“There’s been a lot of issues going on in the house that we’ve had to deal with, from H.B. 6 to everything else.” Frazier said. “This is still a very high priority for the house. We’re going to meet and we’re going to deliver results in six months. And not frequently do you see committees that deliver reports in six months. And so we’re going to be dedicated to doing this.”

Another issue is that Governor Mike DeWine has not yet appointed the final member of the council. Rep. Frazier says the council only needs six members to have a quorum.

Zach Schiller, research director for the non-profit group, Policy Matters Ohio, said the council’s work on helping to reform ODJFS should be underway by now. Policy Matters Ohio is an organization that contributes to policy changes it says improves the lives of Ohio families.

“I had assumed that this would all get started immediately,” Schiller said. “And it didn’t.”

Schiller first testified on House Bill 614 back on June 10th. “If we’re talking about holding people accountable, they should have gotten started months ago.” Schiller said. “And we should be able to start taking steps to deal with it.”

If the council were to have its first meeting this month, it would not be required to have a report of recommendations until August. That would be one year and three months since House Bill 614 was first introduced. Still, Representative Fraizer believes the council will get results.

“We’re going to find the best solutions in order to service the people of Ohio that are trying to get paid for unemployment due to no fault of their own.” Rep. Fraizer said. “And we’re going to try to make a better system that’s top class in the United States.”

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