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Ohio Flags Thousands More Jobless Claims For Fraud, Slowing Down Benefits

Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services in downtown Columbus.
Ohio Public Radio
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Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services in downtown Columbus.

While filings for unemployment benefits slowly ticked up in January, the last two weeks of reported numbers show an explosion of jobless claims. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is now flagging tens of thousands of those claims for possible fraud, which could slow down the distribution of benefits.

Around 50,000 jobless claims were filed in Ohio in the last week of January. But more than 287,000 jobless claims were filed in the first two weeks of February – 140,444 from January 31-February 6, and 147,002 from February 7-13 – triple the expected number from current trends.

Jobless filings since the beginning of December had averaged 36,000 since the end of November, according to an analysis of weekly ODJFS reports from the Statehouse News Bureau.

The state noticed the problem in the filings at the beginning of February. ODJFS director Kim Henderson said that fraud in the federally-funded pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) program is happening in traditional unemployment, too.

“That steep increase and other economic indicators paint quite a different picture of the state's economic situation and makes clear that criminals are targeting not only PUA but also traditional unemployment," Henderson said.

Comparing those numbers to Ohio’s 5.5% unemployment rate for December, which Henderson called "solid," also suggests fraud.

In the last two weeks, 77,000 claims have been flagged, and more are likely. Henderson admits that will cause delays in people receiving benefits.

Fraud has been a concern in unemployment programs in many states.

Ohio has announced a private contractor will be helping ODJFS with its processing system. State Auditor Keith Faber has also said he's working on an audit of the unemployment process, but his office has issued no report yet.

What lingering questions do you have about COVID-19 and Ohio's response? Ask below and WOSU may report the answer for a future story.

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