Ohio low priority for COVID aid

COLUMBUS — The Senate approved the proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Saturday and many, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, are objecting to the funding formula that places Ohio at a lower priority for assistance.

Husted elaborated last week, saying Ohio is essentially being penalized for doing the right thing.

“There’s no doubt that the plan provides significant additional relief funding for state and local governments, however there’s a provision in here that I want to raise an issue with. The relief bill, which provides $350 billion to state and local governments, uses a formula that incorporates the state unemployment rate for the fourth quarter of Calendar Year 2020 instead of using the straight population base formula, that is traditional in most bills of this nature and was certainly used in the previous CARES Act. In doing this, it really puts Ohio and a lot of states at a disadvantage in terms of the funding that comes from this. Ohio would disproportionately and negatively be impacted by our numbers that they’re using this on.”

Husted said Ohio has had a 5.5 unemployment rate.

“Which would rank us 21st in terms of funding. If it were based purely on population … we’d be ranked seventh in terms of funding,” Husted said. “Because of this formula that’s being used based on unemployment, Ohio would lose $800 million.

“It really punishes states who’ve been trying to do this right,” Husted said. “States that have tried to find a balance between protecting the health of its people from the pandemic, and also protecting people’s economic health. … Doing things that put people back to work actually are going to cost us relief dollars that the people who aren’t back to work actually need. We don’t feel this is a fair way to do this.”

Husted added that nationwide, people are experiencing attempts at fraud throughout the process.

“I believe that unemployment number is an unreliable number because of that fact,” he said.

DeWine, along with other governors from across the country, released a joint statement in opposition to the standard. They hoped the Senate would adjust that bill.

“We need their help,” Husted said.

U.S. Sen Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio responded Thursday with a statement about the process.

“I take a back seat to no one when it comes to fighting for critical COVID funding for my state. I’ve led efforts in Congress to call for direct, flexible funding for state and local governments in every single COVID package we’ve considered. But Senator (Mitch) McConnell and Senate Republicans blocked these efforts for months, suggesting states declare bankruptcy instead,” Brown said, referring to an April 2020 comment from the then-majority leader during an interview.

“If Senate Republicans would have done their job, our state and local governments would be in much better shape than they are now,” Brown said. “My focus is securing help for Ohio communities and Ohioans who are hurting, including those who are unemployed and worried about supporting their families. This bill does both.”

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Republican, did not respond to a request for a statement, but in a press release on his website speaks against a lack of bipartisanship in the legislation, which he says is overpriced and fails to deliver.

Belmont County Department of Job and Family Services Director Jeffrey Felton said the area is in no immediate danger of losing programs offered through the Ohio Department of Labor and the Workforce Development Program.

“That’s sometimes how government works. You do well and you get less,” he said.

“There’s a ton of money there. We’re not hurting as a county,” he said, adding Area 16 consists of Belmont, Jefferson, Harrison and Carroll counties. “We have sufficient funds for training, for services for folks to find jobs to become credentialed, both on the youth side (14- to 24-year-olds) as well as the adult folks who were laid off, as well as the chronically long-term unemployed. From that perspective, we’re doing fine.”

He said the governor’s budget proposal included $400 million in one-time funding to support businesses and promote Ohio.

In terms of unemployment, Fenton said Belmont County’s unemployment rate is about 6.5 percent compared to 18 percent in April, but this could include people who have stopped looking for work and may have artificially deflated those numbers.

“Those numbers are kind of hard to wrap your head around,” he said. “I think we’ve made significant progress to help people find work.”

He also said manufacturing is increasing nationwide, as are the building trades.

“The vaccine is helping a lot. All things considered, we’re managing probably the best that we can,” Felton said, adding the most in-demand training is for commercial driver’s licenses and welding. “We have the resources to help folks.”

Regarding fraud, Felton said statewide there are more than 100,000 initial claims of unemployment and an estimated 30 percent of them could be fraudulent. He does not have the local numbers.

He said when the pandemic began, there was an apparent rush to process unemployment claims and get money to people who needed it, making the process vulnerable to fraud.

“Statewide, it’s terrible. It’s probably one of the things we do lead the nation in,” he said, adding people who have never applied for unemployment are receiving paperwork. “People are starting to notice. They’re getting letters in the mail and saying, ‘This is not me. This person never lived at this address.'”


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