Coronavirus crisis sparks 2,500% increase in Ohio unemployment claims this week

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In just three days this week, Ohio received nearly 78,000 claims for unemployment compensation — a 2,579% increase from the same period last week — as employers shed workers and cut hours during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state received 5,430 unemployment claims all of last week. Then it received 29,177 on Tuesday alone after Gov. Mike DeWine ordered a vast array of businesses to close or scale back operations to slow the outbreak, including bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, recreation centers, bowling alleys and water parks.

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The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is scrambling to keep up with the onslaught of calls by extending its call center hours and shifting employees to focus on answering questions and processing applications over the phone, said Bret Crow, a department spokesman.

“Still, it’s important to keep in mind that this is an unprecedented time, so we would ask callers to have patience,” he said.

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The department’s call center is now open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., instead of the normal hours of operation of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Local libraries and some community centers have shut down during the coronavirus crisis, cutting off a key way that many people without internet access at home apply for state benefits.

So Montgomery County Businesses Services is allowing community members to use computer stations at the Job Bank to apply for jobless benefits.

More people are using the Job Bank’s computers, including about 200 visitors on Tuesday, said Michael Zimmerman, public information officer for Montgomery County Business Services. The Job Bank is at 1111 S. Edwin C. Moses Blvd.

“We have these computers so if anyone doesn’t have internet access at home, they can apply for unemployment,” Zimmerman said. “There are a lot of people who need to do that.”

Job Bank staff members can’t help with unemployment applications and do not process claims.

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The COVID-19 threat has pummeled the stock market and badly shaken the U.S. and global economies. Hard-hit industries include retail and leisure hospitality, which employ more than 76,000 people in the Dayton metro area, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many local workers say they are out of a job or have had their hours slashed for the indefinite future.

Jonah, a local resident who did not want to give his last name, said he was supposed to start a new job at a downtown restaurant on Monday, but he learned the day before that his employer had to hold off on hiring because of the new restrictions on food establishments.

Jonah said he applied for unemployment on Monday but hasn’t heard back on his claim, and he’s preparing his resume and cover letter to find work until the restaurant can resume normal operations.

“Hopefully they’ll still be there when this is all over,” he said.

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But Jonah said his kitchen and cooking experience is not especially helpful at this time because most dining establishments aren’t hiring.

“The entire industry is put on hold right now,” he said. “It’s been a nightmare of a week.”

Many businesses are laying off workers, but many others that are a critical part of the supply chain need workers and are overtaxed by high demand, including some in transportation, food and medical products, Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said.

“Please make sure you know that those options are out there and available too,” he said.

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Amazon and Kroger have been announced they need to hire thousands of workers. Some businesses have seen increased demand, like online pet retailer Chewy.com, which has a fulfillment center near the Dayton International Airport.

The company posted on Twitter that most orders are being delivered in three to five days instead of the normal one to two time frame because there are so many “pet parents” ordering food and supplies.

"The health, safety and well-being of our team continue to be our top priority," said Diane Pelkey, vice president of communications for Chewy. "We are working diligently to fill all orders on time while ensuring a safe work environment for our team members, and due to higher customer demand, we anticipate deliveries to take longer during this time."

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Husted also said that the state has filed to be designated as a small business assistance disaster state. That should open up opportunities for businesses in Ohio to obtain financial relief.

“We’re going to get through this. This will be tough. We all have to pull together,” he said.

State requirements to file for unemployment benefits include:

• Ohioans must be totally or partially unemployed.

• In 2020, applicant must have worked at least 20 weeks in covered employment and earned at least $269 in the base period (four out of the last five completed calendar quarters).

• Residents must be unemployed through no fault of their own.

• People who had a prior unemployment claim that is expired must have worked in covered employment since the beginning of the prior claim year to reestablish as a worker.

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