State policymakers can act now to protect Ohio from coronavirus
Posted March 11, 2020 in Press Releases
Pass paid sick days, hike funding for public health
Governor Mike DeWine and state lawmakers can take immediate action to protect Ohioans from the coronavirus, starting with a temporary paid sick time program, shoring up the state’s public health infrastructure and making sure everyone’s basic needs are met, according to a brief by Policy Matters Ohio.
“The coronavirus shows that we really are all in this together,” Senior Project Director Wendy Patton said. “When employers don’t give workers paid sick days and people have to work while sick, that’s not just bad for the worker, it’s bad for everyone they come in contact with. We all suffer when policymakers give tax cuts to the powerful few instead of fully supporting Ohio’s public health infrastructure. When people can’t afford to see the doctor because they don’t have health coverage, we all have a higher risk of getting sick.”
Nationally, 27% of private sector workers lack paid sick days. Based on national figures, Patton estimates that 400,000 Ohioans working in warehouses, grocery stores, shopping malls and small businesses; 236,000 who work in manufacturing; and 128,000 who work in construction, could lack paid sick leave. “We’ve seen the havoc this can wreak in Ohio,” Patton said. “In 2008, 509 people in Kent got sick with norovirus. The outbreak was traced to a Chipotle restaurant that didn’t give employees paid sick days. The cost of the outbreak to workers and the community far outweighed the cost of paid sick days to the restaurant.”
Since 2005, state policymakers cut funding for Ohio’s local public health departments by 30%, and Congress cut federal funding for public health by 45%, adjusted for inflation. In addition, Ohio is one of only eight states where more people lost health coverage in 2018 compared to 2017. People who live at or near the poverty line, are homeless, have disabilities or are elderly, are especially at risk. Patton says policymakers must set aside funding to make sure they have the food and medical care they need during the outbreak. Working people who earn low wages risk losing their paychecks. That could lead to higher hunger and eviction rates. If economic conditions for workers and families deteriorate over a prolonged period, the federal government must provide relief.
Ohio policymakers can set some recommendations in motion immediately. Having declared a state of emergency, the DeWine administration can expedite contracts for emergency and medical equipment. Policymakers can also use money from the Controlling Board’s Emergency Purposes Fund, the Budget Stabilization Fund and federal funds through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
“Ohioans need our leaders to act now,” Patton said. “Tax cuts for the wealthy and powerful have weakened our state’s ability to weather a crisis like this. Allowing employers to cut costs on the backs of workers ends up costing us all. It’s time for a different approach that recognizes everyone benefits when public policies protect all of us.”