A year in, DeWine names panel to recommend fixes to Ohio’s unemployment system. What took so long?

By: - February 8, 2021 12:37 am

Gov. Mike DeWine outlined his state budget proposal for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 in a February press conference.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday announced that he’s forming a public-private partnership to recommend improvements to the state’s struggling unemployment system. 

That system, operated by the Department of Job and Family Services, has experienced epic problems since the coronavirus pandemic started nearly a year ago. 

As with many other states, Ohio’s system was outdated and understaffed when the pandemic hit, DeWine shut down parts of the economy and the federal government passed supplements for the masses who found themselves suddenly out of work.

Desperate Ohioans have faced lengthy waits getting benefits from a system they’d paid into, and some reported hours on hold with overwhelmed call centers. Some who collected benefits were later told, incorrectly, that they needed to repay them. More recently, the system has been inundated by fraudulent claims, again slowing the release of benefits as the creaking system tries to get a handle on the problem.

To deal with the problems, DeWine on Thursday named his “Public-Private Partnership Team” assembled by former GOP U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, who is now president and CEO of the Ohio Business Roundtable. Members of the panel will include representatives of:

  • Fifth Third Bank 
  • Nationwide Insurance
  • Western & Southern Financial Group 
  • Encova Insurance 
  • KeyBank

In a press conference, the governor said that personnel from the companies handle functions similar to what the unemployment system does and should be able to figure out how to cure what ails it. He added that the team has 16 members and is expected to grow.

“These experts will provide recommendations and solutions to improve the call center, claims process, and fraud detection efforts in the state unemployment system,” DeWine said in a statement following the press conference. “They’ll examine short-term and long-term improvements. Our goal is quick action while keeping an eye on the long-term best processes going forward, and we will continue working to improve the unemployment system so that eligible Ohioans in need can receive the financial assistance they are counting on during this pandemic.” 

That top experts will be digging into the problems plaguing the state’s unemployment system might be good news for the 326,000 Ohioans who filed new or continuing jobless claims during the week ending Jan. 30.

But the formation of the partnership only now begs an obvious question, what took so long, given that the system has been experiencing severe problems since March?

A DeWine spokesman didn’t respond to that question. Nor did he respond to a question asking when the new panel is expected to make its recommendations and when they might be implemented.

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.

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