Are you a worker? Do you feel #LostInTheSystem?

Workers Lost in the System, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio, OH, job loss, pandemic, COVID-19, news


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ohio in early spring, most residents couldn’t have predicted the economic impact it would have. Like many others, maintenance technician Noah Bowler (name changed to protect client privacy) lost work when the state shut down and immediately applied for unemployment benefits.

Noah’s hopes for relief were dashed when Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services denied his application, claiming he did not meet the minimum amount of weeks worked to qualify. Noah knew this was not true, yet he felt helpless on his own up against a complicated administrative system. He contacted Legal Aid and a paralegal helped him file an appeal with all of the appropriate documents. The appeal was approved, and Noah now has the financial support to weather the pandemic.

“The Ohio unemployment compensation system was not set-up for the type of volume we’ve seen in 2020,” explained Tom Mlakar, deputy director at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. “Sadly, so many lives depend today on this safety net. The stability that UC brings helps people remain stable as they anticipate returning to work. UC benefits help pay for rent, food and other basic needs.”

Ohio’s unemployment system, operated by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, has seen unprecedented numbers of applications since the pandemic began. These issues have been further complicated by the complex system of multiple layers of programs being offered right now by both the state and the federal government. Legal Aid is encouraging people who have been waiting for five or more weeks to contact them.

“Our team is poised and ready to stand by the side of people who need help,” Mlakar explained. “Knowledge is power in this uncertain time, and our Legal Aid staff can do important problem-solving work.”

In early April 2020, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland launched a Worker Information Line, for people who were unsure about talking with an attorney and perhaps just needed a question answered. If a caller asks a question that needs legal action, they are immediately referred into Legal Aid’s intake system.

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is also available to help anyone who may have been denied benefits. “The appeals process can be intimidating, and sometimes, people can be wrongly denied,” Mlakar said. “Legal Aid can help people through the process of appeals.”

Think you need help? Contact the Worker Information Line or contact Legal Aid for legal help by visiting:  Online intake is open 24/7 and phone lines are open during most business hours.

Visit for more information Legal Aid’s work to extend justice throughout Northeast Ohio.