Answers to qualifying for unemployment, the $300 payments and disputed Ohio claims – That’s Rich! Q&A
Answers to key questions about unemployment insurance benefits. Advance Local illustration, Shutterstock
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Though the $300-a-week supplemental unemployment payments have arrived for many Ohioans, questions still linger about who qualifies, disputed claims and problems in reaching the unemployment office for help.
So we’re dipping into the That’s Rich! mail bag once again this week to answer lingering questions about Ohio’s unemployment system.
Q: If I was receiving regular unemployment benefits, I’ll still get it (the $300) right? I got the extra $600 when it was passed I’m now on my federal extension. – Alicia
A: To get the $300, you have to be out of work for a coronavirus-related reason, per federal rules for the short-term program.
The state said it recently finished setting up the system to take care of this requirement online, and is delivering payments for up to six weeks for a total of $1,800, retroactive to Aug. 1.
Traditional unemployment, trade, SharedWorkOhio and extended-benefit claimants need to sign into their accounts and answer this new question: “During the week ending Aug. 1 or any week since then, have you been fully or partially unemployed, or had a reduction in hours under a SharedWork Ohio plan, due to COVID-19?”
You should find this in “claims details” section, after clicking “COVID-19 Lost Wages Assistance Certification.” If you need help, the unemployment office asks that you call 877-644-6562.
People on the pandemic unemployment program (those not qualifying for traditional unemployment) were the first to start getting the $300 payments around Sept. 16 because they already answered a similar a question as part of the a requirement to qualify for that special program set up under the CARES Act.
Payments are promised to be retroactive for only the weeks ending Aug. 1 through Sept. 5. It’s uncertain what will happen for claims beyond then, because money for the program is limited and the federal government has done nothing to extend supplemental benefits once the $44 billion set aside has been spent.
Q: I am currently employed, able to work, and working. Our hours have been cut dramatically due to COVID-19 and so has the salon’s hours. I get unemployment for the difference in my claims. Will I be eligible for the $300? – Krista, Oxford
A: You certainly should be able to answer yes to the the question of having hours reduced “due to COVID-19,” making you eligible for the $300.
But your question raised another concern in my mind. How about for some people receiving small, partial unemployment benefits because they are working some?
Federal rules say the $300 payments are for people already ″eligible for at least $100 per week in unemployment insurance compensation.” It’s possible, as an example, to be eligible for $200 but receive only $50 in a given week if a person is working part time, the result of partial pay offsets.
So I asked and received some good news for folks in this situation.
There’s no penalty for taking on the work if you have the opportunity as long as you’re still getting a paid benefit of some amount. The $100 cutoff is based on the amount qualified for initially, not for a given week, said Bret Crow, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Q: They (Ohio unemployment notices) insist that I worked for (a certain employer), which I never did. They sent me a statement of overpaid account and have given me 45 days to repay $2,160. What do I have to do to prove to them that I never worked (there)? . I called unemployment and explained my situation and they aren’t much help either. – Tom
A: Determinations come with an opportunity to appeal. File your appeal by the deadline. Tell them you never worked there. You might consider providing evidence, such as previous tax returns. The more evidence, the better opportunity to clear up an error more quickly. (In case others are wondering, you named the supposed employer, but I didn’t publish it here.)
Advice for most anyone receiving notices. Read closely. If you disagree, take advantage of your opportunity to appeal to the unemployment office.
Q: My weekly amount determination (in May) was $360. This was based on the tax return that I submitted to them. I did not question this determination as it seemed right based on the documentation I provided and the amount of money I had been making at my previous employment. I began receiving weekly payments of $360 (minus tax, retroactive to March) and have received them since. . (Recently) my weekly benefit amount was listed as $189 and was showing an overpayment of approximately $4,000. There was no correspondence and no determination letter explaining this change. I contacted PUA’s customer service number and they also could not locate any determination notice. It was only after checking into my customer notes that they discovered that apparently on Sept. 10 they had determined an overpayment. . She said I would most likely be required to pay back the $4,000, regardless of who made the error. – Katherine
A: You’ll be given an opportunity to appeal when you do get your notice.
But they can claw back money when mistakes are found, even if it’s their mistake. Thousands of people have been confronted with this possibility. It can be a huge worry for anyone in this situation. The best defense is to be armed with information, both yours and what could go into a threatened benefit change.
It’s possible you have been assigned $189, the minimum weekly benefit under the pandemic unemployment program (PUA), because, at least according to the unemployment system, some information is missing. The unemployment bureau on one of its Q&A pages explains the $189 assignment is possible for people who have not submitted required financial documents within 21 days. You said you did that. Explain this in your appeal.
Another possibility for overpayment notices, according to the same Q&A page, is that a recipient may have entered wages but not weeks worked: “If that is the case, our system may have (originally) overestimated your appropriate benefit amount.”
Read your notice carefully when it finally arrives so you can contest it properly, with as much information as possible.
Q: I work part time about 17 hours at $10 an hour per week. If I get laid off, do I qualify for unemployment? – John
A: Apply for traditional unemployment. If you are denied because your income is too low, you can then apply for the pandemic program known as PUA, which is designed for lower-income workers and the self-employed. The PUA program runs through the end of the year.
Q: I know that there have been multiple apologies already given to Ohioans for the unemployment congestion. But I don’t care how many times someone apologizes to me about something. It does not make the situation better. So even if I get 100 more apologies, all I got to say is, “Could somebody please tell that to the landlord or explain this to the electric department and maybe a grocery store on the corner?” – Larry.
A: It’s still hard to get through to the unemployment office on the phone without long waits, or in some cases even to be given an opportunity to wait. I’ve seen evidence of multiple cases of people waiting weeks for decisions on “pending” claims. So I asked the state the status of building out staffing for phone customer service and processing claims, now that we are six months into the the first business hits due to the pandemic.
The answer: “The buildup continues. We recently added 210 intermittent call center agents and adjudicators to our team, to provide much-needed help with the historic volume of calls and claims. Beyond confirming that, please encourage your readers to call on the weekend when call volume is much lower. Our call centers are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays,” responded Crow, the unemployment office’s spokesman.
To his suggestion about calling on the weekends, I tried that and can confirm I’ve found very short wait times then.
Q: I filed for pandemic unemployment after the schools were closed last spring. I am a school crossing guard and do not work during the summer so I did not file for unemployment during that time. Now that school will resume (back in the classroom by the end of September hopefully) I want to file for the time starting at the end of August. When the unemployment office was reached it was said that we had to file for the weeks that were summer vacation before the August weeks will come up on our accounts. . Does my claim have to be closed and reopened, or will there be a way to the eliminate the weeks not collected and start again with August? – PK
A: This can be confusing. Claim weeks for PUA show up no more than four at a time in the system. You have to file for those earlier weeks first. If you weren’t unemployed because of COVID during the summer, you can say so and you will be denied for those weeks. But once you go through that process for the summer weeks, the more recent weeks should start showing up for you to claim benefits if you were unemployed because of COVID while your school system is still closed.
Q: Ohio unemployment website and the federal info for PEUC is saying that the 13 weeks will automatically be added to your unemployment when you run out of your original (26 weeks of) benefits. You’re stating (in a previous That’s Rich! column) that something will be mailed (or emailed) to people with instructions on how to get the extension. Can you clarify this? – MK
A: This is a reminder to everyone to be careful of the source when you find differing information. The link you provided me looked pretty official, but it wasn’t part the Ohio unemployment bureau’s website’s, nor a government website of any kind.
Here’s what the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services told me via email when I asked about the procedure to receive an additional 13 weeks of unemployment under PEUC (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation):
“The claimants must apply for PEUC in order to qualify for the additional 13 weeks. The claimants receive a notification with instructions after exhausting regular UI (unemployment insurance).”
In other words, watch your email for notices and/or your account for the instructions. If your unemployment ends without receiving the instructions, contact the unemployment office. This extension program runs through the end of the year.
Rich Exner, data analysis editor, writes cleveland.com’s and The Plain Dealer’s personal finance column – That’s Rich! Follow on Twitter @RichExner.
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Earlier unemployment stories from That’s Rich!
Answers to qualifying for unemployment, the $300 payments and disputed Ohio claims – That’s Rich! Q&A Answers to key questions about unemployment insurance benefits. Advance Local illustration,