Federal, state jobless benefits could stretch 98 weeks in total

The West Chester Twp. Salvation Army Family Thrift Store, 7900 Tylersville Road, has closed permanently. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
The West Chester Twp. Salvation Army Family Thrift Store, 7900 Tylersville Road, has closed permanently. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Director thinks odds of anyone ‘lingering’ that long on benefits are low

In the COVID-19 era, with Ohio’s unemployment rate pegged at 13.7 percent in May, Ohioans who exhaust their unemployment benefits may be eligible for more — for a theoretical total of 98 weeks of combined state and federal benefits.

Up to 20 weeks of extended benefits will be available to eligible Ohioans who exhaust both the maximum 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits and 13 weeks of federal “Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation” (PEUC), the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) said this week.

Kimberly Hall, director of ODJFS, laid out the progression of benefits this way Tuesday: Ohio offers a maximum of 26 weeks regular unemployment benefits, followed by 13 weeks of federal PEUC benefits. Then the state's newly announced extended benefits provide another 20 weeks.

At that point, the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program kicks in, which offers an additional 39 weeks.

But Hall believes the odds of anyone exhausting all 98 weeks of those benefits are low.

"It will take some time for an individual who's eligible under regular unemployment to move all the way through the regular unemployment extension resources before they would need to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance," Hall said in a virtual meeting with Ohio journalists Tuesday.

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Hall said it will probably be "challenging" for unemployed people to "linger" for all 98 total weeks of those available benefits. Someone who receives a "suitable offer of work" is expected to take the offer unless there's a "good faith" reason not to do so, she said.

"Our expectation would be that we would not have individuals who are receiving benefits throughout that entire duration," she said.

At some point, the benefits requirement to actively search for new employment — which has been waived for the moment during the pandemic — will kick in, Hall said.

"The likelihood of having to go through that entire set of weeks is pretty low," she said.

The additional weeks are possible because Ohio’s insured unemployment rate exceeded a “minimum threshold,” the state said — a measure of the number of people receiving unemployment benefits as a percentage of the labor force.

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Hall said the state, which actively tracks benefits, will begin notifying individuals who may qualify for this additional assistance to instruct them how to apply.

Ohio’s unemployment rate rose from 4.1% in February this year, to 5.8% in March shortly after government business lockdown orders and pandemic fears began to make themselves keenly felt.

The April jobless rate rose to 17.6%, with just over 999,000 Ohioans unemployed that month. The May jobless rate is the most recent number available.

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In all of this, a mix of federal and state benefits are at work. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act created three unemployment programs:

• Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to many who historically have not qualified for unemployment benefits, such as self-employed workers, 1099 tax filers, part-time workers, and those who “lack sufficient work history,” the state said.

• Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) provides an additional $600 per week through July 25 to existing benefit amounts for those in multiple programs, including regular unemployment benefits, PUA, trade benefits and SharedWork Ohio benefits.

• Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) provides up to 13 weeks of additional benefits for Ohioans who exhaust their maximum 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits on or after July 1, 2019. This program is available through Dec. 26, 2020.

Individuals who exhaust their regular unemployment benefits are potentially eligible for PEUC, the state said. Once they exhaust PEUC, they are potentially eligible for extended benefits (or EB).

If residents exhaust all three programs, they are potentially eligible for PUA.

For more information, visit unemployment.ohio.gov/expandedeligibility.