$300 unemployment bonus ends Saturday


By Staff Report

After nearly 16 months the state’s weekly unemployment bonus payments will end Saturday as the rates of those unemployed hit pre-pandemic levels.

While Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced the changes near the beginning of May, this will be the last week those unemployed will be eligible for the ‘unemployment bonus,’ payable next week.

When the virus first struck America many governors, including DeWine, took the unprecedented action of shutting down large swaths of their respective state’s economies.

That action, deemed necessary to protect lives, sent the country into unemployment levels that rivaled that of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

As many workers soon found themselves without jobs or the ability to seek employment, the state’s unemployment system quickly became overwhelmed.

Another issue was also brewing, unemployment payments would be but a fraction of what many wage earners usually received at their place of employment.

In Congress, as members worked to draft what would become one of the largest spending bills in U.S. history, a conversation was being had on how to protect workers who lost their job at no fault of their own.

Initially, the solution was to match the difference between what an unemployed worker would traditionally receive and what they would typically make at their job.

What should have been a simple solution however was anything but as many states had antiquated computer systems from the 90s and early 2000s.

In Ohio, for example, the state’s system was run off a 16-year-old computer, a 2004 COBOL Mainframe.

After hearing from states across the political spectrum about the impossibility of the original proposal, a solution of giving every unemployed worker a weekly ‘unemployment bonus’ or ’roundup’ payment was devised.

While elected officials debated on what the weekly payment should be, untimely it was set at $600 or based upon a 40-hour-theoretical-workweek of $15 per hour.

Part of the CARES Act passed in late March 2020, the payments would run through Sunday, July 26.

After the bonus payments lapsed, then President Donald Trump proposed using the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund dollars to provide a reduced weekly unemployment bonus.

Due to state-imposed restrictions on many businesses last summer, as well as reduced demand, many employers needed only but a fraction of their pre-pandemic workforce, resulting in maintained high unemployment levels.

Trump’s proposal was to use federal funds to pay $300 and ask states to supplement the other $100 for a total weekly unemployment bonus of $400 per week.

DeWine was one of the first governors to question the ability of states to match any amount of funds as his state and that of many others were facing mounting budget deficits as receipts from both income and sales tax declined.

After a short political standoff, Trump said he would allow states to still participate and not provide the matching funds as he had previously said would be required.

Only four states, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana and West Virginia would provide recipients the additional $100 of weekly funds.

South Dakota would decline the federal funds entirely.

That initiative however only had the reserves for six weeks of payments and in states such as Ohio, those on unemployment didn’t receive their first payment until after the program had already ended, a sign of the issue many states faced adjusting to federal intervention.

By mid-September, Muskingum County’s unemployment level, for example, was at half of its peak from earlier in the year but still double that from before the shutdown.

Complicating the matter on unemployment levels was guidance issued by the federal government which changed how states reported their total number of unemployed, making it more difficult for a ‘complete picture’ of each state’s unemployment status.

After another lapse, Congress reissued the unemployment bonus in December, which was renewed earlier this year and expanded through September.

Many states, almost exclusively ran by Republican governors, began announcing in early summer their intent to end the federally sponsored unemployment bonus.

Those for an early end of the program say it was causing issues with employees not returning to work. Those against say it provided extra money to those would hadn’t yet found employment and an infusion of federal dollars into communities across the country.

In Ohio, for example, DeWine has reinstated the work search requirement attached to unemployment, which had been removed last year due to the unique needs of unemployment at the time.

Of the 26 states which have moved to end expanded unemployment, which includes the unemployment bonus, Ohio and Florida will keep some particular programs in place.

That includes the pandemic unemployment assistant program (PUA), which extends benefits to those who couldn’t apply to the traditional system because of their unique employment situations such as being self-employed or a part-time worker.

Matt Abbott, Director of the Zanesville-Muskingum County Port Authority, said Friday that many local employers have open positions.

“What we’ve seen now is close to pre-pandemic unemployment levels,” Abbott mentioned before explaining that nearly five percent of the workforce or roughly 2,000 workers have not yet returned to work.

Meanwhile, businesses are struggling to find workers with nearly 2,500 open positions, ranging from entry-level to those requiring an advanced degree, needing to be filed.

Currently, Muskingum County is at a 4.8 percent unemployment rate.

In an effort to attract and retain employees, Abbott said, companies locally have increased both pay and benefits.

For a complete list of jobs available search OhioMeansJobs.com