What’s good for people is good for the economy; Ohio policymakers must help

Photo of drive-through COVID-19 screening by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Our health depends on the health of the people near us, and the people near them. Gov. Mike DeWine’s social distancing orders have saved lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19. Ohioans have pulled through by pulling together. Now we need our statehouse leaders to put people first: Let public health experts, not politics, guide our path forward.

This week DeWine announced his early plans to reopen parts of Ohio’s economy. He is taking a gradual approach and promised increased testing and tracing capacity, but is moving more quickly than many public health experts recommend, and without proper enforcement to protect people as they go back to work.

What’s good for people is good for the economy. People who work, people who pay other people for the work they do, and people purchasing goods and services are what makes the economy. We are the economy. Policy choices made by powerful people determine whether the economy works for everyone, or whether it works for the well-connected few.

Pushing people to work before they are safe is not the way to create an “open” Ohio. Ohio is open when everyone, no matter what they look like or where they come from, gets the testing and treatment they need to stay healthy. Ohio is open when we have a public system that ensures we all have food on the table and a roof over our heads.

Fringe elements backed by powerful special interests want DeWine to forgo the advice of public health experts and open immediately. Some of the protesters seem more interested in closing the state to anyone who looks, worships, or believes differently than they. A plan without enforceable safety guidelines for employers and business owners will not fill holes in the budget or help families put their lives back together. It will prolong the pain. 

Ohio has been leading the way in the fight against COVID-19. We can’t give up now; the stakes are too high. In South Dakota and Iowa, where the governors have still not issued statewide stay-at-home orders, employers are making people go to work, even incentivizing them to work sick. This led to deadly outbreaks at two meat processing plants. We can’t let this happen in our state.

Ohioans don’t have to choose between our health and paying the bills. Our policymakers can help everyone get by while we do our part to keep each other safe. Ohio has $9 billion in unreviewed tax loopholes on the books. Our policymakers could close some of these and use money from the state’s nearly $3 billion rainy-day to make sure everyone’s basic needs are met. JobsOhio has millions that could help keep Ohioans afloat, if our leaders demand it. 

Policymakers can change the rules so employers pay a fair return for the work people put in — especially those risking their lives taking care of our elderly parents and keeping grocery stores stocked with food. Our lawmakers can ensure unemployment support reaches everyone who needs it. They can put emergency cash assistance in the hands of families who need immediate help and make sure kids who got breakfast and lunch at school don’t go hungry at home. 

Ohio’s leaders must make sure every person, no matter their race, is protected from COVID-19 and gets treatment if they get sick. The outbreak has shone a spotlight on deep racial inequality in Ohio and across the nation.

Longstanding policy choices to segregate people by race have forced many Black Ohioans to live in communities more exposed to pollution with less access to healthy food, making them more susceptible to infection. Employment discrimination and unequal education opportunities have forced an outsized share of Black Ohioans into low-paying jobs without health insurance. Now, even though they make up 12% of Ohio’s population, Black people account for 22% of the state’s known COVID-19 cases. Ohio’s legislators should take seriously the new Minority Health Strike Force’s recommendations in determining our next steps. 

For us to be truly “in this together,” as DeWine has said, we must keep looking out for one another, even when things get tough. Now is not the time to give in. There is much more to be done. We will get through this together. And when we do, we can make this a state where Ohioans are all in for each other.

Hannah Halbert
Hannah Halbert is the Executive Director of Policy Matters OHio. She joined Policy Matters in 2010 as a policy liaison. She had previously spent nearly four years with the Equal Justice Foundation and the Legal Aid Society of Columbus where she protected homeowners from foreclosures during the housing crisis. Before becoming executive director of Policy Matters, Halbert was named project director in 2018, overseeing work and wages research. Halbert also serves on the board of the Central Ohio Worker Center and the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations. Halbert has a master’s in nonprofit management, a law degree from Hamline University and a bachelor’s degree from Transylvania University.