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Audit shows more unemployed Ohioans looking harder for jobs

Tougher requirements to receive federal unemployment benefits in Ohio has resulted in the disqualification of only dozens of claims, which officials said show the vast majority of jobless workers are trying hard to become re-employed.

To collect federal unemployment insurance benefits, jobless Ohioans must be capable and available to work and they must actively seek employment.

Benefit recipients also must provide documentation of their attempts to find work, and the state conducts random audits to ensure compliance.

Less than 5 percent of state audits have led to the disqualification of claims for unemployment benefits. Officials said this is encouraging news, especially because the state plans to implement similar work-search audits on state unemployment claims beginning in the spring.

“This program will be for people who are just beginning on unemployment with the idea we want to take a look at their work search and make sure they are getting off on the right foot,” said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

In February 2012, President Barack Obama signed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which re-authorized the federal unemployment compensation program and extended federal benefits to workers who exhaust state jobless assistance.

But the legislation mandated recipients of long-term benefits must prove they are searching for employment. Jobless workers are eligible for federal benefits after they exhaust state benefits, which last 26 weeks. In Ohio, benefit recipients must apply for at least two jobs every week.

Under the new rules, benefit recipients must provide documentation that they contacted employers in search of work. Recipients are required to print copies of online job applications. They must print and retain copies of e-mails they sent to employers with their resumes.

Beginning in late October, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services started auditing benefit recipients at random. The department also said it calls employers to make sure benefit recipients contacted them.

The department said it has conducted 1,165 audits since the new rules took effect, and only 49 audits resulted in the disqualification of claims. Johnson said only a couple of audits determined the claims were fraudulent, meaning the recipients were intentionally violating the requirements. In the other cases, workers were not searching for work appropriately or not making job contacts that counted toward their work search.

Johnson said most people would rather work than receive unemployment compensation, because it pays no more than half of what workers previously earned.

About 50,000 Ohioans currently receive federal unemployment benefits, down from 273,000 workers in 2012 and 440,000 in 2011, the state said.

But many more jobless Ohioans will be subject to audits in the future.

Starting in March, the state will conduct more thorough work-search audits on recipients of state unemployment benefits, Johnson said. He said the audits will ensure benefit recipients are actively seeking work, and it also will evaluate whether their job searches are appropriate and effective.

“We don’t want people to spend all 26 weeks of unemployment compensation applying for jobs that are not realistic or that are in industries where they are unlikely to get work,” Johnson said.

Some politicians and others have unfairly stereotyped recipients of unemployment benefits as lazy and unmotivated to find work, said George Wentworth, senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project in New York.

The truth is most unemployed workers want to find jobs, but it is a brutal labor market and opportunities are scarce, he said.

“There are 12.2 million unemployed workers, and in any given month, there are is a little more than 3.7 million job vacancies,” he said. “There are more than three times as many unemployed workers as there are job vacancies, and that doesn’t count the 8 million people who are underemployed.”

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