Gov. Mike DeWine is seen in a March 9 press conference announcing the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio.
It appears likely that unemployed Ohians will get a $300-a-week federal supplement to their benefits, but it’s unclear when it will start, Dan Tierney, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s press secretary, said Monday.
The supplement was called for as part of a series of executive orders President Donald Trump signed Saturday.
“Part of the timing of this is completely dependent on the Department of Labor,” Tierney said. “It could be later this month, but that’s completely dependent upon the federal government.”
An earlier, $600-a-week supplement that was implemented this spring as an antidote to the coronavirus expired on July 31. That prompted fears that many of the more than 30 million unemployed Americans would be plunged into poverty and homelessness.
In Ohio, there were 631,000 unemployed as of June, the most recent month for which statistics were available.
Trump stepped into the crisis after House Democrats in May passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill that would, among other things, continue the $600 supplement.
Senate Republicans didn’t pass a bill of their own until late last month. Their proposed $1 trillion package would have provided a $200-a-week supplement, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, acknowledged that he likely didn’t have the votes to pass it. So he stepped aside and said he’d support anything Trump came up with.
The result was a proposal to take money from disaster relief and use it for unemployment supplements — the legality of which has been questioned by some critics.
As reported over the weekend, the supplement would require states to put up $100 to match the $300 weekly supplement from the feds. That’s money that would require time to pass legislation to appropriate and which cash-strapped states probably don’t have.
Then on Monday, Trump’s team was pitching a different plan, Tierney said.
“There’s a new option for implementing the additional unemployment compensation,” he said. “The first is the $300-$100 split that was reported all weekend. The second was that states could just opt in and proceed with the federal government making a $300 additional payment at no additional cost to the state. Ohio’s going to proceed with that option.”
DeWine’s spokesman said the plan speeds the process by not requiring legislation.
“Comparing these two options, this makes it much simpler because we’re going to work with the legislature either way because they’re our partners in implementing unemployment compensation, but if there’s no additional compensation from the state, we can begin immediately opting in and moving forward as opposed to dealing with additional appropriations,” he said.
However, not needing to come up with $63 million a week as the state’s share of the supplement was likely welcome news with tax revenue depressed by the coronavirus. One reason why negotiations between the White House and congressional Democrats have been unsuccessful is that the White House won’t agree to the Democrats’ demand for $915 billion to supplement city and state budgets.
For some observers, the solution offered by the Trump administration is inadequate and unworkable.
“The $600 in weekly unemployment compensation Ohioans received from the federal government was a lifeline. For many people it meant the difference between eating and going hungry; having a roof over their head or being out on the street,” Zach Schiller, research director for the think tank Policy Matters Ohio, said in an email. “The Trump Administration’s plan to provide $300 a week in federal benefits doesn’t nearly go far enough in helping Ohioans make ends meet. In the time it will take to get Ohio’s antiquated unemployment compensation system up and running with this benefit, this so-called solution will leave more than half-a-million workers without any additional relief for weeks. That will hurt the economic recovery and the many Ohio businesses that need consumers to be able to buy their goods and services. The president and Congress should be fully restore the $600 benefit.”
Trump’s moves Saturday came under criticism for two other reasons.
First, instead of re-implementing a moratorium against evicting renters, his orders only ask two federal agencies to consider whether to temporarily halt them.
Second, it would suspend a payroll tax that supports Social Security and Medicare. Trump said he would try to make the cut permanent next year if he’s re-elected.
Critics not only said that could undermine the two programs for the aged, they also doubted that employers would pass the savings along to workers.
In Ohio, Tierney cautioned that any federal unemployment supplement won’t be immediate.
“It’s going to take a little bit of time for a couple reasons,” he said. “First, we have to wait for an additional guidance document from the U.S. Department of Labor. And we also have to update the computer system so that we can accept the payment.
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