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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 4/17/2014

Tangled Web

The General Assembly won’t allow Ohioans to register to vote online. But Gov. John Kasich’s administration and some lawmakers want to require the great majority of the state’s jobless workers to apply for and claim unemployment benefits online, even if they lack computer skills or access. That’s wrong.

State House members properly removed the proposal from the state budget-update bill last week. But this misguided idea is likely to pop up elsewhere; it needs to stay buried.

Now slightly less than half of jobless Ohioans who file for unemployment compensation do so online; more people register by phone. About one of every eight Ohioans does not use high-speed Internet service.

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Low-income households, people who are older or less educated, and residents of regions such as Appalachian Ohio are least likely to own computers or mobile devices with broadband Internet access; such things are likely prerequisites to digital registration. Many counties with low rates of Internet use also have high unemployment rates.

Advocates say that online registration will better connect jobless Ohioans with information about work opportunities and training and education programs and enable them more easily to post resumés and meet job-search rules. Yet such advantages are greatly limited if the system prevents workers from collecting the benefits they need to live on.

The online-only measure would exempt applicants for jobless benefits who are physically disabled, are legally proscribed from logging on to a computer, or are not proficient in English. But it does not address many other people who are not computer-literate enough to use an electronic claims process effectively or have other cognitive difficulties.

In several states that require online registration, such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico, many people have been denied jobless benefits because they couldn’t make the Web system work for them. Ohio needs to continue to offer an alternative to online filing.

Starting this month, the state Department of Job and Family Services is requiring unemployed workers to register for benefits through the Ohio Means Jobs program. Although that is a mostly online system, some workers will still have the option of filing by phone or in person. The state should evaluate the success of this new rule before it moves ahead with an online-only mandate.

Jobless Ohioans have it tough as they seek work, given the refusal of Congress to extend emergency federal benefits to long-term unemployed workers. People who have lost their jobs have helped pay for the cost of their jobless benefits through previous payroll deductions.

Such workers shouldn’t have to jump through digital hoops to receive what they have earned. The online-only benefits proposal merits a pink slip.



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