Questions arise concerning jobless claims

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press

COLUMBUS (AP) — Lawmakers on Wednesday planned to question Ohio’s human services chief about the state’s response to the unprecedented number of claims for unemployment in a scene playing out in at least two other states on the same day.

The House Ways and Means Committee has heard from many people across Ohio in recent weeks who had problems receiving their unemployment checks, said Rep. Derek Merrin, the committee’s chairman, a Republican from Moncolva in northwestern Ohio.

Kimberly Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, was scheduled to discuss the agency’s handling of the crisis. More than 1.2 million people filed jobless claims in the past nine weeks, more than the combined total in the past three years, the agency said last week as it provided the most recent unemployment claims figures.

“Each claim is important to us, and we recognize the hardship that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on many Ohio families,” the agency said in a statement.

The state has paid out more than $2.8 billion in state funds to date along with more than $21 million from the federal Pandemic Unemployment Act. Ohio’s unemployment rate hit 16.8% last month, the highest since the state began its current record-keeping system in 1976.

In Wisconsin, the head of the state’s Department of Workforce Development planned to respond Wednesday to Republican lawmakers’ complaints about the administration of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ handling of unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic.

Arkansas unemployment agency officials were also testifying Wednesday about problems setting up that state’s system for distributing federal unemployment dollars and about a breach that caused the system to shut down.

Complaints about the handling of unemployment claims have dogged officials across the country, including in Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, where the director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission resigned last week as the unemployment agency has been the target of complaints of jobless claims going unpaid.

In Ohio, complaints from residents about problems receiving checks have been a hallmark of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s daily news conferences. DeWine and GOP Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who oversees the state’s response to those problems, has apologized repeatedly while providing updates on increases in the number of call takers and expansion of the human services agency’s online capacity.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press