ST. MARYS — Don Ring thought he would receive unemployment benefits after he tested positive for COVID-19 in June. But Ring has spent the last three weeks navigating what he describes as a confusing, often contradictory system with no clear indication as to when his claims will be approved, let alone when he will start receiving benefits for the weeks he is unable to report to work because he is self-isolating at home with COVID-19.
Ring’s troubles started on June 22, when his test results came back.
“I was told that I would need to contact unemployment to set up so that I could be paid for the time that I’m off,” he said.
Gov. Mike DeWine in March issued an executive order allowing Ohioans who test positive for COVID-19, as well as those who are quarantined by a local health department, to apply for jobless benefits while they are off work.
But when Ring tried to claim his jobless benefits, he said, he was instructed to apply for the state’s regular unemployment program before he could apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a new federal program extending unemployment eligibility to people who traditionally wouldn’t qualify, like freelancers and self-employed workers.
“They require you to file for state (benefits) first if you are eligible for state benefits,” Ring told The Lima News. “They fail to tell you the fact, though, once you file for that if you’re off for being sick and not laid off, they go through a three-week process and deny you and then you have to go over to the Pandemic (Unemployment Assistance) … so you’re looking at anywhere from six to nine weeks before you’re going to even possibly get paid.”
While Ohioans who miss work because of a COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantine order are eligible for unemployment, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services website does not clarify whether those individuals should apply for regular unemployment or the new PUA program.
And while the state’s website says that PUA is available to Ohioans who have missed work because they were sick or quarantined due to COVID-19, the program is only open to people who are not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits.
“It’s a nightmare. It’s an absolute nightmare,” said Angel Ring, Don Ring’s wife, who is quarantining at home with her husband. “And when you call, you get 10 stories from 10 different people. Nobody’s on the same page at all, so you have no clue in the end what you’re actually supposed to be doing.”
Bret Crow, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said people who made at least $269 per week and had been employed for at least 20 weeks should apply for traditional unemployment benefits, while those who are monetarily ineligible should seek PUA benefits.
Crow said “it will become clear which system they should go through when they start answering questions” on their unemployment application. “Depending on their answers,” he said, “the system will direct them through the appropriate door.”
While Crow could not comment on the specific case regarding the Rings, he said “it’s possible whomever they talked to didn’t know the circumstances or their work salaries.”
Those claims are then approved or denied within 21 days, Crow said, per guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Ring, who works for Cooper Farms in Van Wert, cannot return to his job until he has a doctor’s approval and the Auglaize County Health Department releases him from self-isolation.
The bills are coming due, with no word on when Don Ring can expect to have his jobless claims approved.
“We have no money for bills,” Angel Ring said. “We both have medications this week that we can’t pay for. Our landlords want their rent that we don’t have. We have really nothing.”