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Ohio Will End Extra Pandemic Unemployment Benefits In June

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday the federal government's supplemental unemployment program is slated to end in September anyway. [Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine at a podium in his house

Updated: 11:28 a.m., Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Ohio will end its participation in the federal government’s enhanced unemployment benefits program June 26,  Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program began issuing $600 checks to Ohioans in April 2020 under the CARES Act, eventually dropping to $300 per month when that legislation expired.

As COVID-19 precautions have loosened and vaccines have become more accessible, some politicians and employers have blamed the payments for hiring difficulties.

“The federal assistance, that extra $300 a week in federal pandemic unemployment compensation, is, in some cases, certainly discouraging people from going back [to work] at this point in time,”  DeWine said at his weekly coronavirus briefing. “That assistance was always, always intended to be temporary.”

With an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, “significantly lower than the national average,” he said Ohio’s economy is looking up but widespread difficulties in hiring are having a negative impact on the state’s ability to fully recover.

“This isn’t just about restaurants or retail establishments,” DeWine said.

More than a dozen other states including Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, have already said they are opting out of the program in June. The federal government plans to end unemployment payment boost in September.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said the program made sense when it was introduced, and even later when vaccines were scarce and most would-be employers’ doors remained closed. But the pandemic and economic situation have changed, he said.

“I don't cast any blame on the individual because the government made a policy that said we’ll pay you more not to work than to go back to work and we just have to correct that policy when things have stabilized,” Husted said.

While some things have stabilized, the state does continue to count new infections. The Ohio Department of Health reported 1,161 new coronavirus infections Thursday, slightly below the 21-day average of 1,344.

The number of people hospitalized due to the virus dropped from the previous day to 935. In his Wednesday address to the state, the governor said there were 964 hospitalizations at that time.

Also lower than the previous day as of Thursday afternoon was the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in population, which DeWine said continues to drop daily. The Thursday tally was 119.9, compared to 123 on Wednesday, “so this is a significant drop,” he said.

The governor originally targeted 50 cases per 100,000 Ohioans as the benchmark at which he would drop all state-mandated precautions and coronavirus-related health orders. But he changed plans Wednesday, announcing he will instead lift the health orders June 2, with the next three weeks to be focused on getting shots in the arms of so-far unvaccinated Ohioans.

More than 4.9 million Ohioans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, about 42 percent of the population, so far, DeWine said Thursday.

Also on Thursday, DeWine offered more details on the “Ohio Vax-a-Million” drawing he announced the day before.

Ohioans aged 18 and older will be entered into the weekly drawing “with a prize of up to $1 million,” the governor said, which will be held at 7:29 p.m. every Wednesday starting May 26 and run for five weeks.

The pool of entrants’ names will be taken from the Ohio Secretary of State’s publicly available voter registration database, though a webpage will be available for people to register, as well. Winners must have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the date of their drawing.

Also up for grabs once a week for five weeks will be one full, four-year scholarship “to any of Ohio's state colleges and universities, including full tuition, room and board, and books,” DeWine said. Ohio kids 17 and under who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination will be entered in that drawing, though there also will be a webpage to sign up.

The events will be administered by the Ohio Department of Health, with technical assistance from the Ohio Lottery Commission, and will be funded through existing allocations to the Ohio Department of Health of unexpended coronavirus relief funds, according to the governor’s office.

DeWine said he has the legal authority to used federal recovery money for the drawings.

“The money was sent to the states for the specific purpose of helping us battle COVID,” he said Thursday. “There is no more effective tool. The most effective tool today is the vaccines.”

As for the criticisms that the lotteries are a grave misuse of taxpayer dollars, unethical and a gameshow gimmick, DeWine mostly laughed them off while emphasizing how seriously he continues to take his obligations to his fellow Ohioans.

“I’ve listened to that description of a lot of things I’ve done for the last year. I understand. I did not go into this and make this decision thinking that everyone was going to say it's a wonderful idea, but I have an obligation, and that is to do everything I can to save lives, everything I can to keep Ohio moving forward,” he said. “It's a fraction of the economic impact that this virus has had and still has on the state of Ohio. So, buck stops with me, my idea and we’re going to see if it works.”

ideastream’s Glenn Forbes contributed to this report.