COLUMBUS, Ohio - It may be a step toward economic recovery. but it isn't a bridge. An Ohio-based public policy group says it welcomes the new COVID relief package, but it's hardly enough.
Policy Matters Ohio held an online forum Tuesday to help Ohioans better understand the benefits of the $900 billion measure. They include the direct stimulus payment that nearly 70% of eligible Americans already received. It also extends federal unemployment programs and reinstates a supplemental benefit until late July. Zack Schiller, Policy Matters Ohio's research director, noted that at $300 a week, it's half the amount the CARES Act provided.
"We've got hundreds of thousands of lost jobs in this state - and what's more, it's not a good time to be going out and trying to find a job. There's a pandemic out there," he said. "So, we need a lot more aid, and we're going to need it fast. This bill is really just a down payment."
Aid for state and local governments was not included in the new package, but it did feature new tax break that Schiller said hurt state budgets, many already facing deep cuts. The incoming Biden administration said passing a new relief package is an immediate priority.
Schiller said it's encouraging that the extended unemployment benefits are retroactive to the week starting Dec. 27, when the bill was approved. But it's cold comfort for those who haven't been able to access unemployment compensation.
"If you've got creditors who are banging on your door," he said, "they may or may not be satisfied to hear that, 'Oh, yes, I'll be able to pay you a few weeks from now.' But at least it is some solace to know that these benefits will be paid retroactively when they do get them to you."
Schiller added that investments are needed, possibly from the federal government, to ensure that Ohio's unemployment system isn't overwhelmed, as it was last spring. Some Ohioans waited weeks and even months to receive their benefits.
"If somebody can't access it, it doesn't matter how many good benefits may be available," he said. "They can't get them."
The relief package also includes an increase in SNAP benefits, assistance for renters facing eviction, money for schools and colleges, and funding to help child-care providers stay open.