Personal Perspective: Ohio Demands Lock Too Many Workers From Unemployment Benefits

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Decisive action by federal policymakers ensured that even though COVID-19 destroyed more jobs than any recession in Ohio history, millions of people could keep food on the table and roofs above their heads. More than 800,000 Ohioans were made redundant in March and April 2020 alone. As of September 2021, more than 2.3 million Ohioans had received new Federal Unemployment Compensation (UC), allowing many of them to qualify who don’t normally due to Ohio’s tight eligibility rules, and supplementing regular state benefits. These programs have supported the economy and provided a crucial lifeline for families, but Congress let them expire in early September.

In October, Ohio still had 228,600 fewer jobs than in February 2020 and was recovering jobs half as quickly as the country. Despite the continued need, Ohio lawmakers are making it harder than all but three of the states to meet the income test to qualify for UC. Ohio’s requirement that a working person be paid at least $ 280 per week means that a minimum-wage person who works up to 31 hours per week will never qualify. The test is fundamentally unfair: A low wage means the median woman working in Ohio would have to work 2.5 hours more per week than a man to qualify, and the median black worker would have to work four hours more than her white counterpart. A worker paid less than 90% of all workers in Ohio ($ 10.04 an hour) is expected to work four times as many hours as another paid over 90% ($ 45.37). The rigorous pay test means many of the Ohioians most likely to lose their jobs to COVID-19 were the same workers excluded from UC.

Policy Matters found that four in five of the 750,000 working Ohioans now excluded from unemployment benefits due to strict wage requirements would be covered by a plan co-sponsored by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. It would cover laid-off workers who earned $ 1,500 during the year and at least $ 1,000 in a quarter. Congress would need to pass this legislation, known as the Wyden Bill, or the Ohio legislature would need to pass a model bill.

Attempts by some Ohio politicians to force people back into jobs that don’t exist or are not achievable by making being out of work as miserable as possible are totally disconnected. Last spring, Governor Mike DeWine cynically barred Ohioans from receiving weekly federal benefits of $ 300 10 weeks before those benefits expired, robbing Ohio of hundreds of millions of federal dollars that would have been paid to families in need and spent heavily in Ohio businesses. Now, a bill in the Ohio Senate would overturn a long-standing law and require the General Assembly to pre-approve these benefits before they can begin. Pressed for data to back the proposal, the bill’s sponsor could only point out the notice boards he had asked to help by heading to the Statehouse weeks after federal unemployment programs ended.

Ohio employers have yet to fully restore jobs destroyed by COVID-19, and Ohioans displaced from work by the pandemic or recession face new hurdles in taking them. The number of COVID remains high, raising concerns among immunocompromised workers of contracting COVID-19 and parents of bringing it to an unvaccinated child. Child care – unaffordable for many even before COVID-19 – has now become impossible to access more families as centers grapple with staff. Ohio families need lawmakers to commit to deeply fund our state’s child care infrastructure, including credits to raise the wages of skilled workers – mostly women – who do the work. The typical Ohio child care worker is paid just $ 10.90 an hour, leading to staff shortages.

And employers looking to recruit staff in some of the hardest hit industries may need to make long overdue pay improvements. The median waiter or waitress in Ohio is paid $ 9.56 per hour. The median retail worker, only $ 11.96. Wages this low wouldn’t even have been possible two generations ago, when the federal minimum wage was around $ 13 an hour, adjusted for inflation. Raising the Ohio minimum wage to $ 15 an hour would benefit nearly 1.6 million workers in Ohio. It would also help businesses recruit and resume operations.

As workers and businesses in Ohio scramble to reclaim jobs destroyed by the COVID-19 recession, policymakers must take action to ensure all workers are protected from unemployment now and in the future . Congress is expected to pass the Wyden bill on its own or as part of the reconciliation process. Ohio lawmakers are expected to pass a similar bill if Congress fails to act and dismisses proposals to restrict unified communications access.

Shields is a researcher at Policy Matters Ohio.


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