Agencies, businesses respond to COVID unemployment cut

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK McDonald’s in Martins Ferry and other businesses have been looking for employees, but there seem to be few job seekers. This may change on June 26, when Ohioans will cease receiving supplemental COVID-19 unemployment payments.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The “lifeline” of supplemental COVID-19 unemployment payments has kept many people afloat during the pandemic, but Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that the $300 weekly payments will end June 26.

With close to 5 million Ohioans vaccinated and shot clinics open across the state, DeWine’s press conference Thursday turned to economic recovery.

He noted the 4.7 percent statewide unemployment rate, adding that businesses have informed him of difficulties finding employees. They also told him about the long hours worked by current employees in the service, manufacturing and commercial sectors.

“It’s having a real impact on Ohio’s ability to fully recover,” DeWine said. “We’re coming back, but we need to come back as strong as humanly possible.”

DeWine said federal pandemic unemployment compensation assistance was meant to be temporary, and he will inform the U.S. Department of Labor that Ohio will no longer participate.

“Folks are now going to be required to look for work,” Belmont County Department of Job and Family Services Director Jeff Felton said, adding that the supplement of $300 a week had been reduced from $600.

“That additional $300 — that’s $1,200 a month — people were concerned that people can make more on unemployment than they can in some of the jobs that are available. With those two things happening, my expectation is that our job traffic at Ohio Means Jobs should increase. Hopefully people will begin to reenter the employment market,” he said. “I don’t think people are going to be hurt significantly, but I know all these employers are struggling to find workers, particularly in restaurants. Hopefully it will provide more of an incentive to enter the job market.”

Felton did not have the county’s current workforce figure and unemployment rate at hand.

“But I know there are jobs in every county, statewide and nationwide, that are left unfilled,” he said. “It’s in all industries I think, but heavily service industry.”

He added there are options available.

“There is a ton of money available for training,” Felton said. “They just need to report to our Ohio Means Jobs center in Martins Ferry and talk to our employment specialists. We can hook them up with whatever training they need to reenter the workforce.”

Felton said the agencies can also help job seekers find and apply for jobs, particularly now that many employers are taking applications online.

“We have all those services and support available at our OMJ center in Ferry, they just need to walk in the door,” Felton said. “We’re ready if we get that big rush, because it’s been very slow during the pandemic.”

The agency can pay half an employee’s wages for the training period, provided it leads to a full-time job.

In terms of available jobs, Felton referred to a recent virtual job fair where numerous companies participated. He said truck drivers are in high demand, as well as home health care providers, plumbers and educators.

Felton said he is confident prospective employees will overcome any negative habits developed during a year of unemployment or reduced employment.

“We have a pretty strong workforce in the county. People really want to get out there and support themselves,” he said.

Felton said Ohio Means Jobs can also assist in finding transportation and providing tools and work clothes.

We can probably help them remove most, if not all, barriers that they have to getting fully employed again,” Felton said. “With people getting vaccinated, it’s becoming more safe to be out in public, out in the workforce. If they don’t feel safe going to work, there’s probably no amount of money we can pay them. But if they’re vaccinated, if their coworkers are vaccinated, remove that concern.”

Ohio Means Jobs is located at 302 Walnut St., Martins Ferry and can be reached at 740-633-5627.

Many businesses in the area have been facing hectic times. Owners and employees seemed positive about DeWine’s move on Thursday.

“I think it’ll help a lot of the area businesses get employees back, hopefully. A lot of those places will be short-staffed. Without the extra $300 — I think it did its point and it helped where it should. But now life needs to get back to normal,” Aimee Vitale, a server at Belmont Brewerks in Martins Ferry, said. “I know they were very short staffed during winter, but they got through it and they got through it really well. The employees they had did very well.”

“We’ve had really good people working here the whole time, but we do need more for the summertime,” Manager Nicole Stephens said.

“It’s making people not want to work more, since there’s more money for unemployment, more people aren’t going to want to work. What’s the point of working if the government’s just going to give them free money?” Anthony Schmitt, quality manager at the McDonald’s in Martins Ferry, said of the federal supplement. “It’s been terrible. We’ve been way understaffed — people quitting on us, people just not wanting to show up anymore. It’s been hectic. Everybody’s been wanting fast food. … Good for business, but bad for our overall well-being.”

Belmont County Deputy Health Commissioner Robert Sproul said the county has had 6,288 total cases since the pandemic’s onset, with 284 people isolated with active cases or hospitalized, 5,887 recoveries and 117 people who have died after infection.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today