Ohio unemployment overpayments top $2B

Ohio has overpaid roughly $2.1 billion in unemployment compensation since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Interim Director Matt Damschroder said in a meeting with reporters Monday.

This includes an estimated $462 million lost to intentional fraud. But the majority of the overpayments are simply mistakes, he said. Examples include a claimant not understanding program rules and misreporting earnings, ODJFS clearing a claim without proper review, or an employer not reporting wages in a timely manner.

The majority of the mistakes — $1.2 billion — were in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program created to help people who lost income because of the pandemic but didn’t qualify for regular unemployment.

Over the last 60 weeks, ODJFS has distributed over $9.8 billion in traditional unemployment compensation to more than 997,000 Ohioans; as well as $10.8 billion in PUA payments to over 1 million Ohioans, the agency said last week.

Damschroder said the state is working on a waiver policy for non-fraud overpayments.

“This may allow us to establish blanket waivers to individuals who have been overpaid through not fault of their own in certain circumstances” he said.

Damschroder said the overpayment numbers are expected to grow as there is a number of claims with suspected fraud indicators still under review. He said the agency is working with federal law enforcement to address suspected fraud cases.

“It is clear that widescale fraud and overpayments have been experienced nationwide during this global pandemic. No state has been immune,” he said.

Damschroder pledged transparency as they review the problem after concerns were raised by the Ohio Auditor of State that ODJFS officials failed to make the auditor’s office aware of the scope of fraud issues last year.

“I think the most important thing that the agency can do right now to establish confidence on the part of the claimants is to make sure that legitimate claims are paid as quickly as possible,” he said. “And our focus right now is on the three part mission of resolving the backlog, improving contact center times and making sure we reduce the amount of fraud that’s coming in to the system.”

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