LIMA — The novel coronavirus has put so many Ohioans out of work that the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has received more than 1 million calls in March, overwhelming the system’s servers and phone lines — and creating untold frustration for newly jobless Ohioans struggling to apply for unemployment.
Here are some brief answers to your most common questions.
Why can’t I reach the unemployment office?
Too many people are calling or using the website at once. If you’re unable to get through, the only recourse at this time is to keep trying until your application is submitted. Call center hours for have been extended from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays, while the website is available 24/7.
Who can I call if I have a problem or need help with my application?
If you need help resetting your personal identification number (PIN), you can call 1-866-962-4064. But if you have general questions about your application, you’ll need to call 1-877-644-6562, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Can I just go apply at my local Job and Family Services office?
In short, no. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services processes unemployment claims, not county offices. The local JFS offices are responsible for helping out-of-work Ohioans find new jobs and administering other programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.
Do I have to look for work to claim unemployment during COVID-19?
No, Gov. Mike DeWine has waived the requirement to search for work while receiving unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
How much will I earn on unemployment?
Your unemployment benefits will be half your average weekly wage. Also, there is an additional $600 per week from the federal government through July 31.
In Ohio, weekly benefits are capped at $480 for singles with no children. That weekly cap increases depending on the number of children you have, ultimately maxing out at $647.
So if you were to claim the maximum weekly benefit in Ohio, you should expect about $1,200 a week through the end of July. The average weekly benefit is about $380, which would increase to $980 per week.
How long can I claim unemployment?
Typically, Ohioans are only eligible to claim unemployment for 26 weeks. But an additional 13 weeks in federally funded unemployment benefits will be available for those who exhaust their state benefits.
Are independent contractors or gig workers eligible?
Not yet, but they will be soon. While the federal stimulus package extended emergency unemployment compensation to self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig workers and part-timers who are not typically eligible for unemployment insurance, the program is new and not operational yet.
Bret Crow, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said retroactive benefits will be available once the program is up and running.
These workers will be eligible for up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits, which will be calculated in a similar way to traditional unemployment insurance plus the additional $600 per week.
What about the stimulus checks? Am I eligible?
The stimulus payments phase out incrementally based on how much you earned on your 2018 or 2019 tax return, for those who have already filed returns this year.
If you made less than $75,000, you’ll receive the full $1,200 stimulus. For couples, the income threshold doubles to $150,000. The IRS will deduct $5 for every $100 earned past these thresholds, phasing out entirely at $99,000 for singles and $198,000 for couples.
Parents who still claim their children as dependents can claim an additional $500 per child.
When will I get my stimulus check?
It might take a few weeks before you receive your payment. The IRS on Monday said that it will begin sending payments to eligible families within the next three weeks.
Your money will arrive faster if the IRS already has your direct deposit information on file from your 2018 or 2019 tax returns. Everyone else will either have to wait for a check to arrive in the mail or update their direct deposit information online through a new portal the Treasury Department will develop “in the coming weeks.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.