Mahoning County Limits In-person Services During Virus Outbreak

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A vast majority of public offices in Mahoning County will not permit in-person interaction due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but offices will remain open for business over the internet and phone, officials said during an emergency Mahoning County Commissioners press conference Tuesday morning.

County Commissioners Carol Rimedio-Righetti, Anthony Traficanti and David Ditzler said all measures are meant to keep the public and employees safe during this outbreak. 

Dennis O’Hara, director of Mahoning County’s Emergency Management Agency, said measures are being taken to ensure the safety precautions outlined by the Ohio Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

O’Hara is working with public health officials and county officials during the pandemic. 

“We encourage people to follow the recommendations that have been outlined and we encourage social distancing of up to six feet when interacting with someone,” he said.

The Mahoning County Commissioners’ weekly meetings will continue, but there will be no public access. A conference bridge will be set up for the public to listen to the meetings, O’Hara said. Information on accessing that conference will be coming.

The county treasurer’s office will be closed to public access, but if someone needs to conduct business, a phone has been set up in the lobby for patrons to call for assistance. 

Mahoning County’s Department of Job and Family Services office will close its lobby and not have any face-to-face contact beginning Wednesday, including the child support division, said director Robert Bush. 

The Oak Hill office will provide boxes for people to drop off applications for benefits or information that can be scanned into client files. Bush said the box will be behind the double-door entry and monitored by someone inside the building. 

Documents will be removed at least hourly.  Bush said the box will not “just be sitting out,” but will be monitored to protect personal information.

“These benefits and food assistance benefits will continue and there will be no sanctions during this time for reapplying or eligibility information that is not provided,” he said. 

“I anticipate we will receive a spike in Medicaid benefit applications. Those interviews will be done via telephone,” he said. 

Bush said the public should expect increased wait times as staffing is being altered for two-thirds of workers working from home while the remaining staff will work from the office. “We will flip those workers weekly,” he said.

Mahoning County has 84,000 clients on Medicaid and 53,000 people receiving food assistance. 

Displaced workers or people in need of assistance should call 844 640 6066 to apply for Medicaid food and cash benefits. 

Those seeking unemployment due to job loss or a cut in hours can apply online at Unemployment.ohio.gov or call 877 644 6562.

The state has ordered that unemployment benefits will be expedited, but all claims are rerouted to local offices, according to Bert Cene, director of the Workforce Development Board of Mahoning and Columbiana counties.  

 “That is where the backlog is going to occur,” Cene said, referring to Bush’s comment that increased wait times will occur.

Cene said the Ohio Means Jobs work site assistance centers will be closed to the public to adhere to health guidelines concerning limitations on mass gatherings and social distancing. He said assistance is available via phone and email to assist people with job searches and to help people navigate applying for unemployment.

Cene said employees at OMJ are available to answer questions and people navigate the application process, “but even when operating normally, we can only offer basic advice on applying. We don’t deal with personal claims and benefit amounts.”

Bush said that child support payments will be taken through a window at the Oak Hill location or people can pay online or by phone with debit or credit card at 888 965 2676. 

Administrative child support hearings will be conducted by phone, and if that can’t be accomplished, no penalty or sanctions will be incurred for the inability to have a hearing. 

The county’s $250,000 state grant for a youth summer program has been canceled.  Genetic testing for paternity also has been canceled, Bush said.

Nonemergency transportation for medical appointments will continue, but will no longer travel to Pittsburgh hospitals or the Cleveland Clinic. To apply for medical transportation services, call 740 260 08797.

The Mahoning County Justice Center’s lobby has been closed to the public and the highway engineers lobby is closed for in-person contact, but a divider exists in which documents can be shared.

The County Dog Warden has suspended late hours on Wednesday and Saturday, but the lobby will remain open for licensing and any payments.

Pictured: Mahoning County Commissioners Carol Rimedio-Righetti, David Ditzler and Anthony Traficanti.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.