Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, the time is always right to do the right thing. In a case where formerly unemployed Ohioans are seeking the reinstatement of pandemic benefits, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has the opportunity to prove he can tell time.
Two years ago, DeWine terminated two Federal programs that would have provided 900 million dollars of enhanced unemployment compensation to workers affected by the pandemic. His callous, politically motivated decision needlessly heaped financial hardship on hundreds of thousands of Ohioans already devastated by COVID.
A lawsuit filed in July, 2021 challenged DeWine’s decision. The governor could have done the right thing then, but instead, over the past 20 months, he and Ohio Attorney General David Yost fought and lost multiple times — first in Common Pleas Court, then in the Tenth District Court of Appeals, and finally in the Ohio Supreme Court. Now the case is back in front of the trial judge who said back in 2021 that he would have ordered the state to accept the benefits but could not because DeWine and Yost had lodged an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court.
How much longer will DeWine and Yost use the judicial system to wage war against the people they were elected to serve? I have no idea. I do, however, have a suggestion. Instead of wasting lots of time and taxpayer dollars plotting their next legal maneuver, they should devote a few hours to reading the thousands of messages posted on the DannLaw Facebook page by Ohioans who have been hurt by DeWine’s steadfast refusal to do the right thing.
Those messages make two things clear. First, his argument that cutting off the payments would discourage people from working was ludicrous. Many of the messages were written by distraught men and women who had never filed for unemployment in their lives and wanted desperately to return to work. They couldn’t because their companies or their jobs had been consumed by COVID. Those messages show how badly the economy was still struggling when DeWine cutoff the supplemental benefits. According to a study released by the Congressional Research Service, in July of 2021 the labor participation rate was below pre-pandemic levels, unemployment was higher, and aggregate employment remained 5.4 million jobs below pre-recession levels. That’s not exactly what anyone would call an environment rich in employment opportunities.
The messages also show that people are still suffering. Consider this: when COVID-19 hit 69% of Americans had $1,000 or less in savings and 45% had none at all. And while unemployment benefits helped millions weather the storm, many families spent what little savings they had but still fell behind on mortgage, auto loan, and credit card payments. They are now awash in debt that could be at least partially paid by the supplemental benefits the state refuses to disperse.
Combine that with high inflation and the end of several other pandemic assistance programs, including increased SNAP benefits, expanded Medicaid eligibility, rental assistance, mortgage forbearance, and universal free lunch programs, and it’s easy to understand why so many people tell us that they are on the brink of financial disaster.
Here is a sample of the heartrending comments I read every day:
This whole situation has made us seriously start talking about moving our family out of the state, because God forbid anything like Covid ever happens again, I can’t trust my state to take care of its people or put citizens above politics. An absolute shame.
I know people are getting more and more frustrated, believe me, my home is the next thing I’ll be losing because $4 an hour serving is just not pulling the money I need to catch up after losing my $20 an hour job because of Covid.
DeWine had no business taking this money away from the unemployed. I was one of them through no choice of my own. The first time in 45 years I ever filed for unemployment benefits. I appreciate all the efforts to get this money back to those that earned it.
Why does he [DeWine]hurt those that are truly in need?? What kind of man does that to people?? Normal functioning people do NOT go around destroying & hurting others I just need a little help. Not a handout. I don’t understand people who have so much and are in power & can make a positive difference in other lives refuse to do it.
Ironically, as my firm battles to force DeWine to accept the available Federal funds, a subcommittee created by the General Assembly has been charged with ensuring that the funds remaining from $26 billion of Federal pandemic relief funding — money the state gladly pocketed — is used, as subcommittee co-chair Republican Jamie Callendar put it, in ways “consistent with the legislature’s will.” Anyone who knows anything about the GOP-dominated House and Senate knows that means the $7 billion left of those funds will be headed into the pockets of big business while Ohio working families face financial devastation.
Dr. King famously observed that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” With the stroke of a pen, Governor DeWine can bend that arc and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The choice is, as it always has been, his.
Marc Dann served as Attorney General of the State of Ohio and now leads DannLaw, which specializes in protecting consumers from various forms of predatory financing. He is also a founding partner of Advocate Attorneys.