MADISON COUNTY, Ohio (WCMH) — The coronavirus pandemic hit Ohio in March, and work stopped for Madison County resident Bryan Kirk.
In May, he applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) and was approved.
“I received a determination letter,” Kirk said. “That indicates how much you will receive, and in my case, it was $480 a week.”
But in September, he received a second letter from ODJFS.
“They indicated that I had an overpayment, that I owed them back, in the amount of $7,566,” Kirk said. “That’s significant.”
Three days later, Kirk filed an appeal, but didn’t hear anything about its status. He continued to wait, and on Oct. 5, he called again.
“I waited 2 hours and 47 minutes,” he said. “Very frustrating, but I did that… Just to have then, after 2 hours 47 minutes, a recording come over the phone saying, ‘We apologize but we can’t take your call at this time due to the high volume of calls.'”
That’s when Kirk turned to Better Call 4.
“Every single one of these issues is important. Every claim is important,” said ODJFS Director Kimberly Hall.
She said PUA is a federal program, and the Department of Labor urged states to let applicants report their own income history, so payments could go out quickly.
“And that is where, frankly, there is a disconnect that ends up being revealed between the income amount and what’s truly the appropriate weekly benefit,” Hall said.
Ultimately, that is a decision made at the federal level and that ODJFS is required to comply with that decision, Hall said.
While Kirk said he’s sympathetic to the challenges the department has faced, more needs to be done.
“This isn’t just necessarily about Bryan Kirk,” he said. “This is about the thousands and thousands of other people like me, who are less fortunate, whose voices aren’t being heard.”
Hall said the department has implemented several measures to make communicating with ODJFS as smooth as possible, like extending call center hours and transitioning employees from other offices to help.