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Ohio Lawmakers Grill Unemployment Chief Over System Inefficiencies

This April 22, 2014, file photo shows an employment application form on a table during a job fair at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, N.Y.
Mike Groll
Associated Press

The state official in charge of the agency administering Ohio's unemployment system was on the hot seat Wednesday before a panel of state lawmakers.

As Ohio's unemployment numbers continue to increase, Ohio Job and Family Services Director Kim Hall was peppered with questions from legislators on the House Ways and Means committee.

State Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) asked why so many Ohioans have had problems with the state’s unemployment system, everything from not getting checks they're owed, to not getting through to anyone in the state office to help them.

"You know, we are in the year 2020. How do we not have a phone system that properly works?" Merrin asked.

Hall said the unemployment system was not equipped to deal with the high call volume and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wholeheartedly agree that our current system is antiquated and does not serve Ohioans to any degree of the level that we need for service," Hall said.

Hall explained the state is in the multi-year process of installing an $86 million system, but said it won’t be fully operating until 2022.

Ohio has received a total of 1,257,838 jobless claims over the last 10 weeks, including more than 42,000 in just the last week. And that's not counting independent contractors and 1099 employees, whose unemployment system had to be built from scratch after Congress extended benefits to previously ineligible workers.

Hall said her office has processed more than 92% of the claims submitted, but about 7% of the claims affecting more than 83,000 people are pending.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.