Federal, state COVID-19 bills offer support, but more is needed
Posted March 25, 2020 in Press Releases
Today the Ohio General Assembly approved measures to combat the economic effects of COVID-19. Congress was also expected to approve an additional stimulus package, the CARES Act, but the legislation awaits final passage. Policy Matters Ohio Executive Director Hannah Halbert issued the following statement on their actions:
“The economic contraction we’re experiencing is necessary to fight the pandemic and save lives. We need policy supports to help workers and families stay afloat through the crisis. Years of bad choices by state and federal leaders mean recession will hit low-wage workers hardest. Stay-at-home orders directly shutter many of these workers’ jobs—retail, food service, janitorial workers and those who are misclassified as independent contractors or ‘gig workers.’ Employers pay these workers so little, that even in good times, many need food assistance. In bad times they have no reserves. Federal and state policy must help families who have lost income survive and also mitigate the temporary, necessary, but extreme drop in consumer spending.
“The General Assembly provided some much-needed support to aid working people and the economy by codifying the Governor’s expansion of unemployment compensation benefits, they can do more. The law’s plain language suggests that workers who have left their jobs to care for children who are no longer in school or daycare are eligible, as their separation from work is due to the public health order, but the DeWine administration must provide more guidance from the state on the question. The law also fails to address Ohio’s overly stringent income threshold. Ohio’s earnings test requires claimants to average $269 a week during at least 20 weeks of earnings in a year. An Ohioan who is paid minimum wage and works 30 hours a week will not qualify for benefits if they are laid off.
“The pending federal stimulus plan also has its strong points. The legislation provides pandemic unemployment assistance to those not covered by state unemployment benefits, including the self-employed, gig workers and others misclassified that way. These payments along with cash assistance of $1,200 for individuals earning less than $75,000 will help Ohioans replace their lost income. This helps people pay rent, bills, and purchase groceries. These payments are crucial to support Main Street and consumer spending, especially in light of the giant benefits for corporate America Senators included in the package.
“At the state level, legislators prohibited water shut-offs, extended tax filing deadlines, reset the primary date, and waived educational testing. These and other measures will allow for smoother operation of government help Ohioans weather the crisis. State lawmakers have slowed the growing EdChoice voucher program, but they continue to deduct the cost of vouchers from state funding for districts. The laws they passed do not include previously considered remedies to stop private schools from siphoning more and more funding from public school districts in recent years. The financial stability of these districts will continue to erode at a time when they will be even less able to afford it.
“Ohioans need much more food aid to make sure everyone gets enough to eat and the long lines at food banks don’t lengthen further. Parents and child care providers need additional support to ensure excellent care is available and that child care workers are paid a decent wage. Lawmakers must also prioritize policies to prevent homelessness. They made a good start by passing moratoriums on evictions, but unscrupulous landlords bypass the legal process and evict tenants without a court order. Rental assistance and increased funding to shelters for supplies and local efforts to increase shelters’ ability to provide isolated space are desperately needed.
“Congress must pass a stimulus package that helps states meet these needs and prevent state and local governments from making extreme budget cuts, which would exacerbate and prolong the recession. Governor DeWine has already solicited recommendations from state agencies for cuts up to 20% of their budgets. We know from the last recession cuts to public services and to public sector jobs make for a slow recovery. The $150 billion stabilization fund for state and local governments in the CARES Act is a good start.
“We are all in this together. Smart policy can help lessen the harm and ensure Ohioans can get back to work when the danger passes. Now, as always policy matters. Bad policy that allows people and public budgets to fall off a cliff will create a new crisis on top of the pandemic we are fighting – deepening our recession and prolonging the suffering.”
Policy Matters Ohio staffers will examine these measures as they are finalized and implemented. Keep up to date with our COVID-19 Response page.