New unemployment insurance claims in the Ohio Valley began to taper off this week as states make their way through the backlog of applications amid business closures forced by the coronavirus pandemic. But local economies still face a staggering number of unemployed, and many of those who are out of work are still awaiting help.
About 211,000 people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia joined those seeking help during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest claims push the regional total to nearly 1.8 million unemployment assistance applications from people in the Ohio Valley since mid-March.
The data released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Labor showed more than 3.8 million unemployment claims around the country for the week, pushing the total of unemployed in the country to about 30 million.
Labor Department figures for the week ending April 25 show Kentucky with 90,824 claims; Ohio with 90,760; and West Virginia with 29,576.
Backlogs of unemployment insurance claims across Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia continue to be a problem with some people initially being rejected for their unemployment claim. Others like Bart Fox say they don’t know why their claim hasn’t been processed and attempts to get answers have resulted in hours on hold only to be hung up on.
Fox lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and works at a local hotel bar and restaurant. He filed for unemployment in March when he was furloughed. Fox hasn’t received any of the unemployment benefits he applied for and his calls and emails trying to find answers have largely gone unanswered.
“So it's been extremely confusing as to why nothing's been processed. I've written emails, like most I've called, like most haven't received an email back or a call back yet, at any point.”
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said this week the state would work to address all the backlogged claims that were filed in March. During his daily update, Beshear said the state is down to about 29,000 backlogged unemployment claims from March.
Fox spent hours on hold multiple days this week and still doesn’t know anything new about his claim. He’s frustrated and worried about bills that are coming due, including rent.
“It's like there's a disconnect somewhere because a lot of these things that they're saying and the numbers they're putting out like I know, way more people that haven't gotten their benefits and have gotten them. So something's missing.”
Zac, who asked that only his first name be used in this story to protect his future employment, was also furloughed from his job in March and applied for unemployment assistance right away. He still hasn’t heard anything, but he’s been calling most days trying to get answers.
“So I was very patient at first, after the first three weeks and nothing and it kind of seemed like I was being put on the outside of everything,” he said. “I did start to get a little panicked, frustrated.”
For many people, this is the first time they’ve had to file for unemployment. It’s something Zac never thought he’d have to do.
“Kind of going stir crazy. I've never been in a house for this long without a job. So this is kind of unprecedented for me,” he said. “And the not knowing what's going to happen. It's been a little anxiety-driven.”
Both Zac and Fox agree with their employers’ decision to close their workplaces in an effort to slow down the spread of the coronavirus and they plan to go back to work at the same places. But it’s been over a month without income and they’re running out of patience.
While people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia are waiting for answers on unemployment they’re due, governors in the three states are starting to release their plans for how to reopen. But it’s unclear who will be enforcing safety standards and with daycare facilities and schools still closed, it may be hard for people to safely return to work.
The data reported to the U.S. Department of Labor only accounts for unemployment assistance that has been processed.