Lack of computer access hinders unemployment application process

By J Swygart -

WAPAKONETA — To file an unemployment claim in the state of Ohio, simply go to website and, in the upper left hand corner of your screen, click on …

What? You don’t have a computer? Or internet access?

Oh. Well … ummm, okay. You’re just going to have to do this by telephone. Call 1-877-644-6562 (or 1-614-387-8408 for hearing-impaired customers) and wait. Then most likely wait some more.

That’s a scenario some local residents like Leo Cairns say they are experiencing. Cairns recently found himself laid off. He claims to be well-versed in the latest technology but has relied exclusively on a workplace computer for all his needs. He no longer has access to that computer and is at a loss how to file his unemployment claim.

“I’ve talked to some people who say they’ve been hold with Job and Family Services for up to six hours on the phone and never did get a claim filed. I’ve called JFS repeatedly over the last three weeks and they aren’t taking messages,” Cairns said earlier this week. “I can’t get through to them and without a computer it’s got me stymied.”

Under normal circumstances, computers are available for free use at OhioMeansJobs centers throughout Northwest Ohio. These, however, are anything but normal times.

“During this time period, due to the coronavirus, our office access has been closed to the public,” said Amy Freymuth, director of Workforce Development for the Auglaize County Job and Family Services office.

Freymuth said she has not received inquiries regarding a lack of computer access as it pertains to filing an unemployment claim, but admitted the options for those individuals are limited.

A recent decision by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted to expand hours at the state call center should reduce the wait time for those filing unemployment claims, the JFS official said. The centers are now taking calls from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays.

Cairns said he is “not in a bind, economically” while attempting to get his unemployment claim started, due to some retirement income, but he knows not everyone has that financial luxury. And he knows his problem is not unique.

Beth Jokinen, communications director for Lima schools, put into perspective how widespread the lack of computer accessibility is locally. She said more than 1,000 families with children attending school in Lima have been identified as having either no access to an internet connection or have no computer in their homes.

“We tell people that they’re just going to have to continue to call” the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to file their jobless claims in the absence of filing via computer, Freymuth said. “I understand their frustrations. We’re here to serve the public, and we want to help them.”

By J Swygart

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