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Ohio lawmakers grill director of Job and Family Services over inadequate response to unemployed workers

“We have still been able to answer fewer than 40% of calls. This is unacceptable to all of us."

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Back in March, we talked to Happy Greek restaurant worker, Phillip Skunza. He was struggling to get through to the unemployment office.

“My frustration was definitely with not getting the answers I needed,” Skunza explained.

Eleven weeks later, he's back at work, but still not has received a penny from unemployment benefits.

“I was just like at my wit's end with this. No one could give me an answer about this,” Skunza said.

While Skunza says he is relieved to be back at work, he still has a lot of questions for those who run the unemployment office and so do lawmakers.

“The department’s website is effectively broken. The reason why you are getting so many calls is because your web site is broken,” Representative Derek Merrin said.

Several representatives told Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kim Hall they have heard from hundreds of their constituents who have struggled with unemployment.

They demanded to know why. Hall personally apologized.

“We have still been able to answer fewer than 40% of calls. This is unacceptable to all of us,” Hall conceded.

Hall says the state faced an unprecedented surge in unemployment claims almost overnight as the pandemic led to widespread business shutdowns. She added the speed of the shutdown left the state no time to retool its system to respond.

Merrin, who is the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, argued it starts with a difficult to use website that was supposed to be revamped four years ago.

“It is offensive to hear that it takes four years to build an IT system. Who signs off on a project that takes four years to complete?” Merrin said.

Last week, the state's unemployment rate hit 16.8%. More than 1.2 million Ohioans have applied for benefits.

Benefits that Skunza has paid into for decades, and is supposed to be there.

Skunza certainly agrees more should have been done so people like him weren't struggling to pay bills for the last 11 weeks.

“For them to do this to us and basically let me down,” Skunza said.

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