COVID-19 has put a halt on industries forcing Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky businesses to change how they operate and, in some cases, temporarily or permanently close doors. The quick shifts in state and federal mandates is causing many in the Tri-State to need unemployment benefits to get them through the pandemic.
State officials are trying to balance slowing the curve of the virus and keeping the gears of the economy in motion, often looking to the federal government for support.
U.S. Senators have reached a $2 trillion aid deal that will put money into Americans' hands, expand unemployment efforts and fill gaps in funding for states throughout the U.S. If the bill is signed into law, it will allow states to add freelancers, contractors and people who are self-employed to the list of those eligible for unemployment benefits, something states are currently unable to do since many such workers typically don't pay into the program.
The process to file for benefits varies in each state, but Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky officials all echoed one sentiment: "this is an unprecedented time."
Unemployment benefit offices in Indiana closed this week and officials are encouraging people to file online.
The Hoosier state has seen an increase in initial claims since COVID-19.
Some states are waiving the waiting period before initial claims can be filed but Indiana is keeping its one-week wait in place for now. "That is something that's being discussed and being investigated internally, looking at both the technological capability to do so as well as the legal ability," Indiana Department of Workforce Development Chief of Staff Josh Richardson says.
It takes roughly 21 days after the initial claim before people receive their benefits. The pandemic could slow that timeline down, but Richardson says his office is working to avoid that.
Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services says COVID-19 unemployment claims are already exceeding the 2008 recession. The surge in phone calls and online activity has stopped some people from being able to get through. State Job and Family Services Director Kimberley Hall says they're working to increase the volume capacity and exploring ways to divide claims by zones (a system Kentucky uses) or last name.
For now, freelancers, contractors and self-employed people can't receive benefits, which could change if the federal government's comprehensive bill becomes law. "We are making our best efforts right now to prepare from a system standpoint to handle that additional influx," Hall says. She says such workers should wait since the system isn't currently set up to accept their applications. If you're self-employed the current application won't allow you to move forward.
Ohio has waived a one-week waiting period for initial claims. You can apply for benefits here.
Lieutenant Governor and Cabinet Secretary of the Education and Workforce Development department Jacqueline Coleman says the state has received 30 times the applicants in the last week than they would in a normal week. Kentucky has increased its server capacity; created 12 regional phone lines that allow residents in specific zones to get help; and is going through applications based on the first initial of your last name.
"To make sure our system can handle the volume we're getting, and we spread out and balance those numbers," Coleman explains. She says categorizing processing periods by last name doesn't delay when you can expect to receive your benefits.
Kentucky has waived its waiting period which allows people to file for benefits as soon as they're released from their job.