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Experts Divided On How New Federal COVID Relief Could Help Northeast Ohio

Volunteers hand out meals for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank with a contactless pickup system. [Greater Cleveland Food Bank]

Congress is working on a second stimulus bill meant to boost the economy as the coronavirus pandemic continues. If the second round of help includes more $1,200.00 checks in your mailbox, lawmakers hope that extra cash will get folks spending again.

But Northeast Ohio experts say while the money would be helpful for families, it won’t prevent a stumbling economy from falling over the edge. 

According to Rea Hederman, executive director of the Economic Research Center and vice president of policy at conservative-leaning think tank The Buckeye Institute, the best way to give Ohio’s economy the boost it needs is supporting business. 

“I’d really like to see the federal government really target aid to a lot of these small businesses and organizations, and I think tax relief and no interest loans is a good way to get them the money they need during the downturn,” Hederman told ideastream. 

Hederman said businesses, particularly those hardest hit in the hospitality sector, will need loans and tax relief in order to keep their doors open and either keep or rehire employees that have been let go. 

But Zach Schiller, research director with the liberal-leaning Policy Matters Ohio, said another stimulus bill would help more families if it focused on supporting folks who have lost their jobs and are relying on social benefits. 

“We need to see an extension of the $600 weekly unemployment insurance, we need aid to the state, we need increased Medicaid support and we also need really basic protections for families,” Schiller told ideastream. 

Schiller said he’s particularly worried about families who are unable to pay their rent and could be facing eviction, as well as those who are struggling to put food on the table.  

According to Kimberly LoVano, director of advocacy and public education at the Greater Cleveland Foodbank, about 26,000 new families have visited emergence food assistance programs in the area over the last several months. While demand for food bank services and other meal assistance has been stretched since the pandemic began, LoVano said the previous stimulus package did bring some relief. 

“The combination of the stimulus checks and the additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits had an impact in the number of people we were seeing at our doors,” she said. “I think it just brought some security into really an unprecedented time.” 

Conservative lawmakers in Washington are expected to unveil their version of the bill Monday evening, including a proposal to extend the extra unemployment insurance — but only by $200.00.

Ida Lieszkovszky is a freelance journalist based in Cleveland, Ohio. She covers an array of topics, including politics, education, and the environment. You can find her on Twitter @Ida_in_Cle.