County gets processing center nod

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Ironton’s unemployment claims office will become one of only a handful statewide that remains open in years to come.

Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Ironton’s unemployment claims office will become one of only a handful statewide that remains open in years to come.

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"We received word yesterday that we will become a processing center," said Buddy Martin, director of Lawrence County Department of Job and Family Services.

State officials announced plans Monday to close its 56 walk-in unemployment claims offices, and switch to file-by-phone process.

That idea began early in Gov. Bob Taft’s term, when he announced the former Department of Human Services and Bureau of Employment Services would merge.

For about two years, state officials discussed the best method to accomplish the task, with the idea to switch to a statewide system to file claims by phone.

"There was no question that was going to happen," Martin said, adding that the county became concerned for the existence of its unemployment office.

County commissioners wrote a letter requesting Lawrence County become a home to one of the new processing centers, and now here it is, he said.

"I’m really happy about it," Martin said, adding that not only will local employees remain here but also more employees are likely to be brought into the community.

"These people would have been gone," he said. "But instead them going other places, we will bring more here."

The public will notice little difference, except that they have to file claims by phone, Martin said.

Employees would remain at the One Stop Center’s front counter to answer questions and help persons file claims by phone. However, the rest of the staff – including staff from Scioto County – would be unseen while processing claims by phone, he said.

And, those claims would come in from all over the state.

Once the system is complete in 2004, most callers should never receive a busy signal, be connected to a claims taker within 30 seconds and be able to file the claim within about seven minutes, said Sandy Blunt, an assistant director with the state’s Department of Job and Family Services.

Unemployed people can still visit one of 97 regional one-stop job centers where they can get advice and help on finding a new job, he said.

In the long run, Martin hopes the move to processing centers will spur similar statewide changes that could create more Lawrence County jobs.

For example, if the processing center for unemployment claims works well here, why not decentralize other government functions housed only in Columbus, he said.

"This is our opening," Martin said. "If public sector jobs can be localized in Lawrence County and be done as good as or better than in Franklin County, then let’s decentralize state government."

The local office hopes it can show Ohio a demonstration – that state services can be delivered at the local level, which would attract more government jobs here, Martin said.



Recently, more than 60 percent of unemployed people have been filing claims by phone, Blunt said. The state’s plan calls to contract with an outside company to create a new phone system to make the current system even faster.

”Our customer does not want to get in the car, drive down, bring the kids with them, stand in a long line, be able to file the paperwork with somebody, get back in the car and drive home,” Blunt said. ”All of us here would rather pick up the phone, call our claim in in 10 minutes or less, then be able to go about finding a job.”

The plan would use 1,017 full-time employees in 22 locations. Seven of those would be phone centers handling all the calls; the rest would process claims and handle mass layoffs, or claims involving 50 or more employees from one company.

The plan is estimated to save more than $17 million a year.

The union representing most of the state employees affected by the change said the plan does not appear to address all the concerns raised by lawmakers.

It’s also unclear if the proposed phone system could handle the volume of calls if the economy continues to weaken, said Peggy Tanksley of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

Eight counties will lead a pilot program to close the current centers and shift to call-only claims: Clark, Cuyahoga, Defiance, Franklin, Lawrence, Paulding, Portage and Williams counties.

The call-in and processing centers will ultimately be located in: Akron, Bowling Green, Canton, Chillicothe, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Defiance, Elyria, Ironton, Jackson, Lima, Mansfield, Marietta, Painesville, Sidney, St. Clairsville, Tiffin, Toledo, Youngstown and Zanesville.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.