Advocates: Pandemic, unemployment impact women on many levels

By: - July 8, 2021 12:55 am

Jobless workers demonstrate in support of continued federal unemployment benefits in the pandemic economy. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images).

The loss of $300 in extra unemployment assistance has hampered recovery from the pandemic for many Ohioans, including women, advocates say.

Leah Haenszel was a respiratory therapist before COVID caused her to leave her job to take care of her three kids, something she couldn’t afford to do, even with a full-time job.

“The excessive costs, because there’s so little supply (of child care workers) and so much demand was in excess of my income,” Haenszel said on Wednesday during a panel discussion on unemployment in the state.

After working for nearly 30 years in hospitals, Haenszel said she had to leave work to take care of her kids. This came after attempting to continue working, with the help of other friends who’d lost jobs because of the COVID-19’s impact on the economy.

But because she said fraudulent claims were filed using her name and address, the state unemployment system wouldn’t allow her to apply to get her own assistance.

As the state reeled from business and economic loss from the pandemic and high demand for unemployment benefits, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services said “crime rings” were filing fraudulent claims for pandemic relief. This led to temporary holds on 270,000 suspected fraudulent unemployment claims as of July 2020.

“This is a very isolating feeling,” Haenszel said. “To be in a situation where you’ve invested in this unemployment insurance your entire career, and it wasn’t there.”

But Haenszel and the others on the unemployment panel, including state Rep. Lisa Sobecki, D-Toledo, and Desiree Tims, head of Innovation Ohio, said removing the supplemental federal unemployment that was set at $300 a week to try to incentivize working is the wrong thought process to bring about economic recovery.

This is especially true for women, many of whom have had to make sacrifices similar to Haenszel due to a lack of child care and support.

As the economy and Ohio residents continue to recover from the pandemic, Tims said women of color across Ohio are asked to “make it work” as the state fights to increase vaccination levels.

“We are again asking Black and brown women and women of color around this state to bear the brunt of everyone else’s shortfalls and shortcomings in this state,” Tims said.

Sobecki said Democratic bills to equalize pay for women, change rules on earned income tax and increase minimum wage have been left on the legislative floor, which could be solutions to the economic issues that existed before and during the pandemic.

“It kind of gets me a little bit in my craw when I hear folks say we need to get back to work,” said Sobecki, who serves on the state’s Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council. “Women have been working. Women are really exhausted in our state being told ‘get back to work.'”

When Senate Republicans introduced their version of the state operating budget last month, it included an income tax cut they said was meant to be a reward for those who choose to work. Senate President Matt Huffman said the income tax cut, which was 5% in the Senate budget draft, was “in the best sense of the word a stimulus,” and an “incentive” to return to the workforce.

The approved budget included an income tax cut, but it was reduced to 3% in the final version.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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