Posted April 23, 202010:46 am
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland introduced a worker information line to assist individuals whose jobs has been impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. On March 22, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all nonessential businesses to close, leaving many people unemployed or with reduced hours.
The free information line launched on April 9 and 80 individuals called seeking advice in the first week. According to attorney Katherine Hollingsworth, the vast majority of the calls are about unemployment benefits. "It's very confusing and there are a lot of unknowns about how the CARES Act will be implemented," she said. "We view ourselves as a trusted source in the community. We want to hear questions and try to communicate reliable information."
Ms. Hollingsworth explained that some of the common questions are how to apply for unemployment compensation, what information and applicant needs and how many weeks of benefits a person can receive. People also ask whether the new laws apply to them and how soon the employer must give the employee his or her final paycheck.
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland serves five counties: Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Ashtabula and Lorain. Workers can call the Cuyahoga County Line at 216-861-5899 and they can call 440-210-4532 for the other four counties. The caller can leave a message at these numbers and a legal aid representative will return the call.
One common question, she said, relates to people who are denied benefits unemployment benefits under the state system. The federal CARES Act has created a pandemic unemployment assistance program that will cover part-time workers and independent contractors, but it hasn't gone live in Ohio yet, she said. People heard about the CARES Act and heard that they will be covered, but when they apply, they are not getting approved. The team at the Legal Aid Society answers questions like this and others.
"[The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services] has a website that they relaunched and there's a portal for expanded benefits," Ms. Hollingsworth said. "We want to make sure people know that that's a resource that they can go to."
She said that people from a variety of careers have called with questions, including a receptionist for a business, someone who stocked materials at a grocery store, nurses and people in the restaurant industry. Ms. Hollingsworth was unsure of the demographics of the people who have called, but she said that she personally talked to someone from Parma and Chagrin Falls.
"A good number of calls have been from folks who didn't need unemployment benefits in the past so this is a new system to them," she said. "Folks aren't sure of the basic eligibility criteria."
If an individual is seeking legal advice, that person will be referred to the Legal Aid Society's intake department, which has eligibility specifications. Sometimes the Legal Aid Society will also refer employees to a local organization that can further assist them, such as United Way 2-1-1 Greater Cleveland or Catholic Charities.
Several employees have called the information line, but Ms. Hollingsworth said that is designed for employees. Employers that it is designed for employees. Employers are referred to the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and the state unemployment website, unemploymenthelp.ohio.gov.