The COVID-19 not only denuded the fragile healthcare system of the United States, but it has also unearthed the unemployment system that turned out to be highly inadequate in helping the citizens sail through the times of crisis.
The biggest flaw in the fragile unemployment programs of the U.S. is being witnessed in the state of Ohio, were not just one but many things went wrong. First, unemployment due to the COVID-19 led pandemic overwhelmed the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to the extent that the call center that earlier ran on the strength of 42 executives is now struggling to answer citizens’ queries with 1000 executives.
So far, Ohio has overpaid a whopping $2.1 billion in unemployment grants between March 2020 to Feb 2021. Out of this figure, a significant $21 million went to fraudulent unemployment claims.
The toll doesn’t end here. Despite processing billions in unemployment grants, 88,000 claims are still pending to be processed since March 15. These pending claims amount to as many as $1.2 million.
Over the last nine weeks, as many as 1,215,756 people in Ohio have applied for the initial unemployment claim, which is the highest in the last three years.
The state of Ohio has borrowed $1.4 billion from the federal government to continue its unemployment program for the people. However, some of them are still waiting for the answer to their application after eight weeks.
The overwhelmed unemployment program of Ohio
According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services officials, more than 7 billion calls have exploded in the office since March 15, which is 350,000 calls every day on an average.
So what is behind the unemployment tragedy of Ohio? The answer is- inadequate technical infrastructure and the loopholes in the unemployment policies.
Let’s begin with the first- inadequate technical infrastructure.
The inadequate technical infrastructure
According to Matt Damschroder, interim director for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, “Our system is built for annual rainfall, and this was a 500-year flood.”
According to 10 investigates who scrutinized the matter, the biggest problem emerged due to the computer system used by the department. Ohio’s current technical infrastructure is built to operate through the traditional unemployment insurance claims. However, since the onset of the COVID-19 led pandemic, the state is drowned in the influx of unemployment claims as thousands lost their jobs and businesses.
Unemployment Overpayment and Frauds
This obstacle is paired with the second biggest driver of the condition of Ohio- the loopholes in the COVID-19 unemployment program, which has resulted in a massive overpayment of claims.
This overpayment due to policy and technical loopholes is generally the result of factors like incorrect reporting of earnings, false history of wages, applying despite being unqualified, and the biggest of all, frauds.
The number of fraudulent unemployment claims in early February amounted to roughly 44,000. It later plummeted to 7,900 by March 25 and to 950 by April.
These fraudulent practices are carried out by the following means-
- Registering with false information
- Not disclosing the entire information during the application
- Unreported sources of wages from whatsoever work in a week
- Applying for unemployment benefits through stolen identities, etc.
According to the spokesman of ODJFS, “If a claimant has received an overpayment and is still claiming benefits, their weekly benefit will be offset until their overpayment is paid in full.”
What should you do if you have received an unemployment overpayment?
Not everyone is overpaid unemployment claims due to fraudulent practices. Most of the time, it is a human error of the officials handling thousands of claims every day or the inadequate technical infrastructure, as mentioned above.
If you are from the lot that did not attempt to be overpaid and still was, then here are the steps you can take to rectify-
Begin with filing an appeal- You can request a hearing at the state unemployment website if you have received notice for the overpayment.
Waiver Request- In case of a legitimate overpayment, you can apply for a waiver or forgiveness. However, most such waiver is only allowed for a specific period of time to cross-check with authorities.
Repayment- You can ask department officials of your state about either installment repayment plans or bulk repayment.
As the plight becomes intolerable, Ohio to step out of the federal government’s unemployment program
This is not the first time that Ohio has succumbed to the shortage of funds. The state borrowed $3.4 billion from the federal government during the Great Recession, which it has to return with the added $258 million in interests. Not just this, Ohio is the fourth-lowest state in terms of solvency rate in the U.S., according to the Department of Labor statistics.
With a new loan from the federal government, Ohio will soon find itself jostling again with the loan payback along with million dollars in interest.
Due to the reasons mentioned above and others, states in the U.S., including Ohio, are set to step out of the unemployment benefits program of the Democratic government in the White House. But, unfortunately, all these 24 states stepping out are the ones with Republican governors.
Ohio and Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Dakota, Utah, and Arkansas will withdraw the unemployment benefits from June 26.
According to Governor Mike DeWine, “When the program was put in place, it was a lifeline for many Americans at a time when the only weapon we had in fighting the virus was through social distancing, masking, and sanitization.”
“This is no longer the case as we now have an abundant supply of vaccines.”
However, the unemployment insurance program in Ohio will continue at a regular pace. In addition to these announcements, Gov. DeWine also announced that the health orders in Ohio would be removed from June 2.