Updated: April 27, 2020 7 a.m.
Nearly a million Ohioans, 964,556 people, have filed for unemployment in the last five weeks, more than the combined total in the last two years. But more are coming, as thousands of Ohioans who are self-employed or independent contractors have been waiting to file for unemployment under new federal rules.
They get their chance Friday, when for the first time Ohio will start the process of paying out benefits to those known as 1099 workers, and others who don't qualify for traditional jobless benefits.
Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kimberly Hall estimated 150,000 people might qualify for these benefits. As of Friday afternoon, 1,500 had pre-registered at unemployment.ohio.gov.
“It’s called a ‘soft launch’ so it’s not widely available to every person who comes onto the website. We don’t want to overwhelm the system," Hall said.
The system has been overloaded for weeks as nearly a million people have filed for jobless benefits since coronavirus shutdowns took effect last month.
Hall said more capacity to the site will be added in the next few days. But the system to pay them benefits, along with $600 weekly as authorized by the federal CARES Act, won’t be ready till mid-May.
Hall said the state has started paying those $600 checks to those who qualified for traditional unemployment. So far, $979 million in regular and pandemic unemployment assistance has been paid to nearly 400,000 Ohioans.
Thesystem to pay those workers is still being built, so those payments won’t be available until next month, Hall said.
“It will be a portal to pre-register, get your account set up, understand whether you’re actually in the right spot, kind of a pre-screening, versus whether you’re someone who really should be filing for regular unemployment," Hall said.
Hall estimated as many as 150,000 people could file for PUA benefits starting on Friday. Those workers will get benefits plus an additional $600 a week through July 25.
The state reports 109,369 people filed for unemployment benefits in the last week, bringing the five-week total to 964,556.
Since the shutdowns began, the state has paid more than $926 million to 376,000 people.
Hall also said more than 400,000 Ohioans who are getting traditional jobless benefits have also started getting that extra weekly $600.
There are still complaints coming in about the ODJFS call center, which Hall said is averaging 650,000 calls on a weekday. She said the system is being scaled up, and she expects better results for people calling those phone lines by next week.
She also noted concerns that the unemployment compensation fund will be broke by June.
"There's a lot of discussion about that at the federal level. Ohio is not alone in that challenge," she said. "Right now Congress is examining how it will support states' solvency funds going forward."
Ohio’s unemployment rate hit 11.2% during the Great Recession. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted has said a record rate is a possibility in this pandemic as well.