$600 checks going out now, expanded unemployment launches Friday

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Ohio's unemployment system is overwhelmed with applications during the coronavirus epidemic.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Ohioans put out of work by the coronavirus pandemic who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment — such as self-employed workers or those making under the state minimum — can start pre-registering Friday for a temporary unemployment program created by the federal CARES Act.

State officials estimated Thursday that 150,000 Ohioans may qualify for the program, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. It provides assistance similar to traditional employment for up to 39 weeks, plus an additional $600 a week through July 25.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services had to create a new system to process these applications outside of the traditional unemployment program. Though people can start applying Friday, payments aren’t expected to begin until mid-May. They will be retroactive to when someone became eligible, as far back as Feb. 2.

To pre-register, visit unemployment.ohio.gov and click on "Get Started Now." Anyone with questions can call (833) 604-0774.

Coronavirus: Complete coverage from the Dayton Daily News

Payments also started going out this week for Ohioans already on unemployment who qualify for an extra $600 weekly payment under the federal CARES Act.

These checks went to more than 400,000 people, state officials said. Several readers confirmed to the Dayton Daily News that they received them on Thursday.

Statewide the federal payments total $530 million, according to state officials. When added to state unemployment, Ohioans have received more than $926 million in unemployment assistance over the past five weeks.

The additional $600 per week went into effect March 29. Many people this week are receiving lump sum payments that cover back to when they became eligible back to that date. The extra payments will continue for those on unemployment through July 25.

“We are thrilled to provide this much-needed assistance to Ohioans unemployed as a result of the pandemic,” Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kimberly Hall said.

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The coronavirus pandemic has put nearly 1 million Ohioans out of work, state officials say, and the $600 extra weekly payment is one of several temporary programs put in place to assist them.

Hall said in an interview Thursday that processing an initial unemployment claim should take a week if the applicant applies online with all the correct documentation. But with problems, it is taking closer to three to four weeks for some people.

Hall said the state’s call center staff, which had 42 employees, now has about 1,600 workers, including 550 working full time.

It is partnering with Amazon and other companies to create a virtual call center to help people complaining that they can’t get through to anyone on the phone, she said.

Coronavirus: Confused about unemployment? We answer your questions.

“I expect the phone experience to change by early next week,” Hall said.

Some people say they have been trying to file for unemployment since state orders started shutting down parts of the economy in mid-March.

“I’m frustrated,” Hall said of the problems people are reporting. “I’m very sorry that folks are experiencing this challenge. They’ve worked hard for these benefits if they’re eligible, their employers have been paying into our unemployment system and we continue every day to try to do better in that space.”

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Common hang-ups include applicants putting in the wrong bank account information, wrong Social Security numbers, someone filing multiple claims, people with prior unemployment problems or checking the wrong box, she said.

“It’s just not intuitive for folks that are trying to navigate it right now, under high stress, and I understand that,” she said, advising people to read the step-by-step unemployment guide available online before trying to file.

Of about 922,000 claims received so far, Hall said nearly half have been approved and 30 percent — about 283,000 — are pending.

Coronavirus: Complete coverage from the Dayton Daily News

About 182,000 unemployment applications have been denied, Hall said, often for reasons such as not meeting the income threshold or being self-employed, meaning they may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

5 top tips for applying for unemployment

1. First-time applicants should provide their name and Social Security number as listed on their Social Security card. If they are unemployed as a result of COVID-19, they also should enter the mass-layoff number 2000180.

2. To ensure fastest processing, claimants should set their correspondence preference to “electronic,” as opposed to U.S. mail.

3. If you get error messages, try clearing your history/cache. Do not hit the “back” button on your browser.

4. Take advantage of the FAQ sheets available at unemployment.ohio.gov. The state also added a “Chat Bot” feature to help people find answers to their questions, and posts frequent tips and updates on Facebook and Twitter.

5. For fastest payment, choose to receive payments via direct deposit. When you enter your bank account number, make sure that you enter the entire number, with no special characters, letters or spaces.

Source: Ohio Department of Job and Family Services

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