More than $2B in benefits have flowed to Ohioans resulting from COVID-19 related pandemic claims, but some have yet to receive any compensation. 

What You Need To Know

  • Ohioans who have been overpaid or erroneously filed while working may be assigned penalty weeks that must be served before benefits are granted

  • Under the new federal PUA, those claimants should be able to file despite having penalty weeks

  • Currently the new PUA system has a technological issue preventing these claims from processing

“My bills are getting astronomically high, and every time I look at them I think how am I gonna pay these, how am I gonna pay them,” says Youngstown-area bartender Renee Mauk.

Mauk is one of many Ohioans who reached out to Spectrum News about unemployment issues. 

Her situation – due to a previous claim overpayment, she had more than 20 penalty weeks from a previous unemployment claim she paid off, and therefore did not get any regular unemployment. 

And, after weeks of waiting she thought that the new pandemic unemployment assistance program would finally help her. 

“When we were told that we would finally be able to file for PUA, I was like well that’s a win,” says Mauk via video call.  “And the fact that we haven’t been able to yet, we’ll we’ll keep fighting that. It’s stressful, I have my moments, there are days when I’m able to plug through it, and other days I want to cry.”

She says she's logged countless hours trying to resolve her issue, and now she’s getting different information every time she calls or writes someone about her eligibility. 

“We have been told there’s something wrong with the system,” says Mauk.  “We have been told that we need to get our case with state unemployment closed, before we file in the PUA system.”

Ohio Job and Family Services director Kimberly Hall says that people with penalty weeks can apply for PUA.

Just over 113,000 Ohioans have applied for the new federal benefits.

But right now claimants like Mauk are caught in a technological limbo between the new PUA system and the regular UI system.  JFS says to call their new PUA call center at (833) 604-0774 for resolution, but Mauk says she and others in her boat have tried that with no success. 

“But when we call state unemployment, they don’t know what we’re talking about. When we call PUA call center, they don’t know what we’re talking about,” says Mauk.

JFS says it spun up the system in four weeks, and that the same would normally take 4-6 months. But, that means at minimum eight weeks for benefits for those seeking PUA, and others are still waiting for regular unemployment.  On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted again was pressed by reporters to address the long wait times. 

“And to them I tell you we are building what we can with the technology and the resources that we have,” said Husted during the Thursday May 14 daily press briefing.  “It’s not an excuse it’s just the explanation, it’s the reason. It’s not going to be acceptable until everyone can get contact at an acceptable level in an acceptable time frame.”

But Mauk and others in the same boat wonder how much more they have to wait. 

“I was patient, I have been very patient,” says Mauk.  “But, we’re all starting to run out of patience now. It’s getting to the point where it’s frustration and no patience.”

Spectrum News 1 reached out to JFS for clarification on penalty weeks and the process to handle those claims but has not yet received a response.