Ohio's fair-haired Lieutenant Governor, Jon Husted, said Wednesday that there have been more jobless claims made to the state's Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) in the past month than in the previous two years combined.
Husted has been point-man for the unemployment questions at Gov. Mike DeWine's daily press briefings. And Wednesday, he was trying to contextualize the complaints of exceedingly long wait times, technical glitches and denials of benefits that Ohioans have been lodging for weeks.
Husted said that the number of claims are unprecedented and that ODJFS is making every effort to accommodate the demand. Before the pandemic, he said, there were only 42 people manning the Ohio unemployment call center. Now, there are nearly 1,200. "And it's still not enough," he said.
There's always cause for optimism at the DeWine-Acton-Husted show, though, and the Lt. Governor didn't dare mute the courage-and-hope-during-wartime timbre. He said that roughly 340 new employees were currently in training and would be on-boarded by the end of the week, joining others who are now fielding calls remotely.
He advised those who are making claims to use the mass layoff code "2000180," which would help process their claims more quickly, and said that the $600 federal weekly benefit would start getting processed soon.
Crucially, Husted said that by the end of next week, self-employed Ohioans (1099 workers), will at last be able to apply for benefits. Those benefits won't begin arriving until mid-May, but ODJFS Director Kim Hall, speaking via phone, said that the goal was to have the applications "front-loaded," literally as a new system is being built, so that when it goes live, payments can start getting sent out immediately.
Responding to a question about paying for this explosion in benefits, Husted said that multiple options were on the table. Without federal assistance, though, the system would become insolvent sometime in June.
"I want to be clear. This does not mean that you're going to lose your benefits," Husted reassured listeners. "But what the solution will be is in large part up to the General Assembly."
Husted promised that staff and technological tools would be added to the state system continuously to improve claims processing — text-to-speech capabilities, among other things, will be arriving any day now — and that, despite delays, benefits would be backdated for all Ohioans to when their unemployment began.
"The bottom line," he said, "is that we will not stop improving until everyone is served."