Unemployment benefits could need boost from federal government

Ohio Statehouse News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The number of unemployment compensation claims in Ohio is climbing with the current five-day total coming in at nearly 139,468 from March 15-19, mostly due to the shutdown of most state businesses due to the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

To put that into perspective, the highest weekly total of new claims during the Great Recession came the week of January 4-10, 2009; over those days, 44,034 new claims were made.​

The Great Recession obliterated the unemployment compensation fund in Ohio. By 2010. it was broke and the state had to borrow more than $3.3 billion over the course of the recession. Ohio was not alone as it happened to 30 states.​

From the time Ohio began borrowing in 2009, nearly seven years passed before paying off what it borrowed. The final payment went back to the federal government in September 2016.​

The fund currently has $1.13 billion. According to researchers as Policy Matters Ohio, the fund is estimated to last about six months if it gets hit with the same need as 2009, which was nearly 500,000 people receiving unemployment compensation benefits.

There are no numbers yet for how many of the 139,468 claims filed this week were granted. Some believe many of those that filed claims will not qualify because of Ohio’s wage test requirements.​

According to Policy Matters Ohio’s Research Director Zach Schiller, Ohio has one of the most stringent unemployment compensation systems in the country.

“You have to average $269 a week over at least 20 weeks, and if you do the calculation, you’ll find that somebody working 30 hours a week at the minimum wage makes $261,” said Schiller.​

That $8 is what could be why some are being denied benefits during this health crisis and people are being denied.​

Market 65 in downtown Columbus offers both dine-in and to-go. While restaurants are able to stay open to provide curbside pick-up, Market 65 chose to close.​

The sign on the door explained the closing was to protect the health of both customers and employees. The owner of the establishment, Anthony Micheli, said he was not going to risk the health of his employees or customers just to sell take out.​

Add to that the uncertainty of demand for the salads they sell, and the potential to lose money on food waste due to not selling enough, Micheli was forced to make a hard choice if he wanted his business to survive to employ people when the shutdown is over.

Market 65 employees picked up their last paycheck for a while Friday. Micheli said he and his team would get a chance to check in with their employees, explain the situation, and try to help them with applying for unemployment compensation, but he knows what the answer will likely be from the state.

“We certainly have staff members that are in that place that have actually gone through the unemployment and those claims have been denied,” said Micheli.​

When the crisis has passed, Micheli does not expect things to immediately go back to normal. He will not be able to financially handle bringing all of his employees back right away. He said he will have to ramp up operations to match demand.​

That means some employees will be at the back of the line to return to work, and he expects to lose some good employees as a result.

Schiller agrees and says this will not be like turning on a spigot.

“Everybody won’t go back to work because there is going to be that larger economic impact,” he said.​

In the meantime, Schiller applauds Gov. Mike DeWine for all that he has done to open up access to unemployment to those in a difficult position.

DeWine has removed the one-week waiting period, eliminated the requirement that benefit earners must search for a job, and offered access to the fund to those who have been quarantined. DeWine is not going to hit individual businesses with the normal extra tax for having employees on unemployment compensation.

With all of that in mind, Schiller said DeWine, the State Legislature, and the U.S. Congress could do more for out-of-work Ohioans now and in the foreseeable future.​

Schiller would like to see Ohio’s wage test adjusted to open unemployment compensation to more applicants. He would also like to see the legislature approve additional resources.​

There is some federal money coming to Ohio to help pay for the administration of unemployment compensation. This money will help keep those applications and payments processed in a timely manner.

A group of U.S. Senators is proposing the creation of a special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The fund would be similar to the Disaster Unemployment Assistance fund the President of the United States can activate in the event of a natural disaster. That is the same fund a group of governors, including DeWine, just asked the president to activate.​

Finally, Schiller said people working without employers, those who typically fill out 1099 Tax Forms, do not qualify for unemployment compensation through the state. There is also a push going on for the federal government to address this issue.​

According to Schiller, if the governor were to close all non-essential businesses due to the health crisis, he believes the number of unemployment claims would skyrocket further.

During a press conference Friday, DeWine pleaded with Ohio businesses to follow orders and recommendations he and the Director of Health Amy Acton have been issuing. DeWine issued a veiled threat, saying every day he evaluates the situation of trying to keep the economy moving while protecting the health of every Ohioan, but when push comes to shove, he is going to side with health and safety of people over the economy.​

If you are looking to file for unemployment benefits, click here.

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