Figures released Monday show the state of Ohio overpaid more than $2.1 billion worth of unemployment benefits since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than $1.5 billion worth of the overpayments were considered to be “non-fraudulent” that affected both traditional and pandemic unemployment benefits.
Fraudulent overpayments in both traditional and pandemic unemployment totaled more than $460 million.
In previous testimony before state lawmakers and in remarks made today, ODJFS officials made it clear that Ohio’s antiquated computer system combined with the sheer volume of claim requests added to a crippling cocktail that led to long-wait times with call center representatives, frustrated Ohioans seeking benefits and allowed for hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims to be paid out to would-be scammers.
ODJFS Interim Director Matt Damschroder acknowledged that Ohio’s system “was built for annual rainfall, not a 100-year flood.”
Damschroder took over the position earlier this year after former director Kim Henderson left her post and moved out of state.
Since last summer the state has instituted a number of measures aimed at improve the system – including hiring private companies like Experian, LexisNexis, Google and Amazon to help improve logistics and weed out suspected fraud.
Damshroder said Monday that call times and wait times are down but there is still work to be done.
Ohio Auditor Keith Faber’s office is in the process of conducting separate audits into fraud and a customer experience review. He told 10 Investigates last week that ODJFS were not forthright with investigators with his office last year when they were conducting a single audit of ODJFS federal compliance and financials.
Faber said ODJFS did not disclose during the audit process what then-director Henderson later told lawmakers in February – that ODJFS was aware of large scale fraud in July of last year.
When asked how he would do damage control and restore public trust, Damshroder said Monday:
“The most important thing that the agency can do to establish confidence would be to make sure that legitimate claims are paid as quickly as possible.
Our focus right now is on the three-part mission of resolving the backlog, improving contact center times and making sure we reduce the fraud that is coming into the system. We are making progress on all three legs of the stool,” he said. “My charge to the staff going forward is to make sure that we are transparent cooperative and responsive with each of the auditor’s requests. And we are working very closely with his office going forward.”
Can Ohio get the fraudulent overpayment money back?
That remains unclear right now. ODJFS said Monday that it is working with federal law enforcement officials.
“We have established a pillar to work with federal law enforcement and have engaged the services of David DeVillers former U.S. attorney for the southern district of Ohio to assist us as being the intermediatory between us and the federal law enforcement who have primary jurisdiction,” Damschroder said.
What about if you received an overpayment?
Damshroder has said in the past and re-iterated again Monday that Ohio is working on establishing an overpayment waiver to be forgiven from the obligation of paying that money back if the person was overpaid through no fault of their own.
But the details of that remain unclear.
“Certainly for individuals who have experienced an overpayment through no fault of their own, as hard as it is to hear, the best thing I can say is hold tight.
We are working on the policy – we have just recently received guidance from the department of labor and as soon as we have a policy in place and a means to accepting waiver applications, we will reach out to every person in that category,” he said.
Have you been impacted by unemployment benefits?
Damshroder told reporters during a Monday afternoon news conference for claimants to not give up even if they have been frustrated by the process.
“We are making significant strides to improve our processes. We are better off with wait times and getting to an agent,” Damschroder said.
“We are going to run all the way through the tape on all these things.”
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