It was a sad song for James “Mick” Martino in January.
The unemployed musician was banned from benefits when he was told by the state of Ohio that he had overpaid about $ 10,000. He then commissioned COVID-19 and missed his deadline to appeal.
“I tried to contact you via email. I tried calling her, which is incredibly a debacle because when you call you are literally on hold for hours, “Martino then told WCPO 9 News.
It’s now a different tune from Martino, who received a call from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services after WCPO 9 News profiled its story.
“They said they would unlock the payments first so I could get them, which was a relief because I hadn’t been paid in 2-3 months,” Martino said. “My music class has dried up very much because of the virus. People are still cautious about coming here and not everyone has been vaccinated so I needed that. “
More importantly, Martino learned that if he reimbursed the state for mistakenly overpaying him, he might soon be off the hook.
“They said they’ll try to get that to where I don’t have to pay back those ten grand, which is right for me,” said Martino.
In a testimony last week to the Ohio Senate Finance Committee, ODJFS interim director Matt Damschroder explained how the state had mistakenly overpaid thousands of applicants.
“We and the staff at ODJFS have carried out a thorough review of our federal reporting tools. We discovered that the system query in the PUA program was wrong, ”said Damschroder.
Damschroder said the goal of ODJFS is to release an overpayment waiver plan next month.
“We are currently evaluating the various scenarios and circumstances so that we can put in place a robust program that is responsive to the Ohioans and that is fair,” said Damschroder.
Damschroder also said that government assistance from private sector experts at leading Ohio banking and insurance companies (the P3 team) over the past six weeks has helped ODJFS overhaul its calling and contact system and train its specialists so that they can help people with both traditional issues, unemployment benefits and those received through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
“I think it was a phenomenal effort,” said Damschroder. “We have worked aggressively to increase our headcount, improve our training schedule, train employees, streamline the claims settlement process and take additional anti-fraud measures.”
With help from the P3 team, Damschroder said the state has seen improvements in serving the Ohioans, particularly in the past two weeks.
“We have significantly increased the number of calls answered and are now using Experian and LexisNexis technology to verify the identity of job seekers. This has significantly reduced the number of fraudulent claims,” said Damschroder. “It would be wrong for me to say we are there, but we are making progress and we are not stopping.”