COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Transparency is one of the pillars of how Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, his Lt. Governor Jon Husted, and the Director of the Ohio Department of Health plan to get Ohio through the health crisis the novel coronavirus has put us in.
When the Spanish Flu struck in 1918, the government and health officials were not as transparent about the situation, some say to protect the war effort from being damaged. As a result, a very different killer raced through the population, killing tens of millions worldwide.
The Spanish Flu was unlike what we are dealing with now in several ways. From infection to onset of symptoms, to death could be just a few days; and it targeted a completely different demographic, the young.
The commonality the two have is in how people in power are able to respond to the crisis.
Husted announced Monday that the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services would not be providing daily updates to unemployment numbers, saying that the decision was being made at the request of the U.S. Department of Labor’s request.
The memo sent out by the DOL reads in part:
“We understand most federal reporting functions are automated in states. States should work to ensure the timely submittal of the weekly claims reports (ETA538 and ETA539). The data from these reports is monitored closely by policymakers and financial markets to determine appropriate actions in light of fast-changing economic conditions. As such, this data must remain embargoed until the national claims report is released the following Thursday at 8:30 AM EDT/EST. We recognize the need for states to be responsive to media questions following significant events and as such states may provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase). States should not provide numeric values to the public prior to the release of the embargoed claims data. Once ETA has released the data, states may share information for the given week at the level of granularity deemed appropriate within the confines of Federal and State confidentiality guidelines.”
Husted said he was not exactly happy with the request.
“I was very frustrated with the fact that that was the guidance that we received,” said Husted. “I believe that we should be allowed to release it on a daily basis. But that’s what they asked for and, look, we have to collaborate, we have to work together.”
With financial markets teetering and tottering on a daily basis, limiting access to information about unemployment numbers could give the market a break before the numbers are released later this week.
“I respect their strategy for releasing the information, we’ll do it weekly versus daily,” said Husted. “That’s really a better gauge of where we’re gonna be anyway because doing it week by week gives you a whole picture where things are headed.”
In the meantime, the Director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Kimberly Hall spoke in generalities, exactly how the DOL had requested, but provided insight into what we can expect to see on Thursday, pointing out that what we are going through right now is unlike what happened during the Great Recession 10 years ago.
“It’s like flipping a light switch versus the recession for example in ’08 and ’09; that happened in waves,” said Hall. “I will say that we’re at unprecedented levels that exceed the ’08 and ’09 experience.”
Hall said the unemployment system in Ohio wasn’t built for this kind of spike, and as such, people trying to use it are experiencing delays.
“Our plan is working, not as well as and as rapidly as we’d like it to,” said Hall. “The demand for support and service has just been crushing.”
She says preliminary data shows who is flooding the system, and it is no surprise based on what is being seen nationwide and here at home.
“The hardest hit areas are our hospitality industry; certainly hotels, etc., restaurants, and bars. So those industries are really the lion’s share, at least right now, of what we are seeing in terms of claims filing by a dramatic difference,” said Hall.
Keep in mind that was last week after DeWine shut down restaurant and bar dining rooms and moved to a take-out/delivery only model. Now that the state has moved to a Stay at Home order, further unemployment claims may be coming in from sectors that are considered non-essential businesses that are being forced to close.
Even restaurants are closing despite the ability to remain open and serve take-out and delivery options. For many there simply isn’t enough volume for that to keep their doors open.
In downtown Columbus, Market 65 closed last week. Tuesday, Broad Street Bagels and Deli wasn’t open, either. On the corner of Broad and High on Capitol Square, the fast-casual assembly line style restaurant Cinco has a sign up saying they’re closed as well.
With so many in the hospitality industry not working, there have been calls to open unemployment compensation. Normally, many workers in the hospitality industry simply don’t qualify for benefits because of Ohio’s wage earning test.
Hall said if the system is opened up to lower-wage earners, earners who are not employees of a company and typically file 1099 tax forms, as well as extending benefit weeks for those approaching the maximum due to being off work prior to the pandemic, it will have an effect on the fund.
“We absolutely want to be able to support Ohioans in that way, it’s just hard to know right now what that number could be,” said Hall.
In the meantime, some people have reported a delay in receiving their expected deposit Tuesday morning. Hall was quick to allay those fears.
“The deposits are coming, all I can ask is for patience in this really critical time,” said Hall. “Everyone is acutely aware, from the governor on down, of the importance of getting those funds into the hands of Ohioans right away.”
In terms of getting people signed up, Hall said they are working on it and claims she has the workforce she needs and that this is a system issue they are resolving as quickly as possible.
She recommends continuing to reach out, and reminds people they have to apply weekly to receive benefits.