Husted: ODJFS Increasing Capacity to Process Unemployment Claims

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Lt. Gov. Jon Husted says the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is working to increase its capacity in processing unemployment claims by the end of the week.

During daily coronavirus briefings at the statehouse, a common part of Husted’s report is responding to complaints and frustrations aired by Ohioans trying to submit an unemployment claim. On Wednesday, he tried to offer some perspective on the situation at the ODJFS.

“[ODJFS] understand the level of customer service needs to get better,” Husted said, but added the system is “very outdated in terms of technology.”

The current system at ODJFS was built in 2004 and is not cloud-based, he said. While that system “worked fine” when the unemployment rate was 4%, it is not built to handle the current influx of applications. There were more claims filed in March “than in the last two years,” he said.

The department has a plan to create a cloud-based system to create more efficiencies, “but that system doesn’t exist right now,” he noted.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, there were 42 individuals working at the center. Now, it’s more than 1,000, “and that’s still not enough,” he said. Though other state agencies have loaned employees to the department, and the department is training new workers as quickly as it can, trainers are limited, he said. Most of the workers are doing the work from home as well, since they cannot work in close proximity to each other.

In an effort to curb these issues, the ODJFS has promised that by the end of this week, it will onboard another 337 staff, add text-to-speech capabilities and will introduce interactive voice recognition system and bot technology that will provide two ways for Ohioans to get their questions answered, Husted said.

“This is what I was promised will happen over the course of this week,” he said.

By the end of next week, the ODJFS has promised:

  • A virtual call center to expedite wait times for people who need to talk to someone at ODJFS;
  • It will begin processing the added $600 per week payments under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and. Economic Security, or CARES Act;
  • An online tool for self-employed 1099 workers to get in line early to apply;
  • Online application improvements.

“Remember when you’re applying to enter a mass layoff number of 2000180,” Husted said. “This eliminates the need to verify your employer.”

On May 1, the ODJFS should begin processing applications to individuals who are entitled to an additional 13 weeks of unemployement under the CARES Act. Husted reiterated that all eligible Ohioans will receive the compensation they deserve, including any backdated amounts.

“These are the things they have promised are on the way to continue to improve the service,” Husted said. “They, and we, hear you. They have added capacity, they continue to add capacity and tech tools to improve this.”

Those improvements will continue until “everyone is served,” he added. He also recommended anyone who can and wants to work to go to Coronavirus.ohio.gov, where 669 essential employers have posted more than 41,000 jobs. A search for jobs in the Youngstown area found 117 positions primarily in the health care and service industries.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.