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Thousands of Ohio workers stagnant in overwhelmed unemployment system

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ohio in early spring, most residents could not have predicted the economic impact it would have.

Evelyn was laid off from her job at a publishing company at the start of the pandemic and attempted to apply for unemployment. The 74-year-old, who does not have a smartphone or internet access, was unable to successfully initiate a claim. She sought help from Southeastern Ohio Legal Services and a volunteer helped her set up an account. Once the account was established, Evelyn still needed to have her claims backdated to the date she was laid off. SEOLS then helped her apply retroactively for unemployment for the weeks prior to her account being set up.

Thanks to the assistance from SEOLS, Evelyn received $7,500 in back unemployment compensation.

Evelyn is one of many Ohioans who had difficulty applying for benefits.

“We know that the system has been overwhelmed by the record number of people applying for benefits, but Ohio families need help now,” said Kate McGarvey, executive director of Ohio State Legal Services Association. “People are relying on these benefits to pay rent, buy food and keep their utilities on. It’s impossible for families — especially those with low incomes — to go months without income and still manage to stay afloat.”

Ohio’s unemployment system, operated by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, has seen unprecedented numbers of applications since the pandemic began. As a result, SEOLS has seen a 216 percent increase in the number of unemployment cases.

These issues have been further complicated by the complex system of multiple layers of programs being offered right now by both the state and the federal government. SEOLS is encouraging people who have been waiting for five or more weeks to contact them.

“Our staff is often able to reach out to the unemployment office on behalf of clients and help move the cases along,” McGarvey explained. “In many cases a call or an email from an attorney can get the matter addressed more quickly.”

The organization is also available to help anyone who may have been denied benefits.

For more information, visit www.seols.org. Anyone needing help can call 800-686-3669 or apply online 24/7 at https://www.seols.org/contact/.