LIMA — Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans will see their incomes slashed Saturday as Congress debates whether it should extend the $600 in weekly unemployment assistance authorized by the CARES Act, or allow those enhanced benefits to phase out entirely.
The enhanced federal benefits have supplemented state jobless benefits, which in Ohio replace no more than half of a person’s lost wages, at a time when more than 30 million Americans —including 1.5 million Ohioans — suddenly found themselves out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The federal assistance formally ends Saturday.
More than 423,000 Ohioans remain unemployed and another 474,000 have received Pandemic Unemployment Assistance at some point since that program was created in May, according to the latest data from Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
While Ohio’s jobless rate has improved since non-essential businesses started reopening, the state has reported at least 30,000 new jobless claims each week since the end of May, suggesting more layoffs are becoming permanent.
Still, lawmakers are debating whether to extend or reduce the federal unemployment assistance, which has been criticized as a disincentive for workers who were earning less prior to starting unemployment. But the enhanced benefits have also been praised as a lifeline for millions of Americans who now face an uncertain job market as the coronavirus pandemic worsens in Ohio and other states.
Nadia Lampton, an employment attorney for Taft Stettinius & Hollister in Dayton, has seen this dynamic play out with her corporate clients, particularly those in the manufacturing and service industries, which have had a hard time filling jobs since Ohio lifted its stay-at-home order.
“They could be taking a reduction in pay by coming back to work,” Lampton said.
Lampton expects many who are now on unemployment will return to the workforce quickly once the enhanced benefits end, while a smaller cohort will continue to stay home because they are fearful of contracting COVID-19 or they cannot find childcare.
But while companies say they can’t find workers despite widespread joblessness, Ohioans who remain out of work say their employment prospects are bleak.
Jenna Gilbert, 24, of St. Marys, has applied for more than 50 positions since she was laid off from her copywriting job at the Powell Company in March.
She’s now moving in with her sister and brother-in-law, who have two children, knowing that she can’t support herself on the $120 in partial state unemployment and $150 per week she’s been earning through her part-time hosting gig.
“That $600 is what’s been paying my rent for the past three or four months,” Gilbert said. “Without it, I’ll just blow through my savings account.”
Despite her efforts, Gilbert has had several job interviews canceled at the last minute. And that’s when companies respond at all.
The thought of working 40 hours per week in a low-paying role is “defeating,” she said, but Gilbert said she intends to continue seeking work after her move, even if that means a temporary restaurant or retail job.
But what comes after that? Gilbert isn’t sure, as rumors of future shutdowns and more layoffs complicate an already frustrating job search.
“I don’t know what to do,” Gilbert said. “I’m trying to make the best financial decisions I can, and I feel like I’m also in a somewhat privileged position of it’s just me, myself and I that I have to take care of.”