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New rules speed up unemployment process during pandemic

WARREN — Despite new rules that will expand access to unemployment benefits for Ohioans out of work because of state-mandated closures, some workers may not be able to collect enough to get by.

Many of the restaurants and bars that are being forced to shut down all but carry-out and delivery options will lay off some employees who didn’t just rely on an hourly wage, but also tips in order to earn enough money. The minimum wage for many Ohio workers is $8.70 if they don’t receive tips, but the minimum wage for employees who do receive tips is just $4.35 per hour.

So even though an executive order by Gov. Mike DeWine waives a weeklong waiting period and drops work requirements for people applying for unemployment benefits because of the state-ordered business restrictions, tipped workers like Nina Dunn of McDonald will find the benefits won’t cover what they were earning.

While some local restaurants report they are maintaining some staff to conduct carry out and delivery, others are finding there isn’t enough work to keep on servers.

Dunn, 24, works at Texas Roadhouse in Boardman. She spent the day Monday learning and starting the process to apply for unemployment benefits, searching for alternative work, worrying about her family’s safety and security and about two hours on the phone with the bank that holds the note for her car payment.

“We talked in circles for two hours, and I still have no answer on if they can do anything,” Dunn said, adding that the company seemed unaware why Dunn was calling to work something out. “They didn’t seem to understand what is happening here in Ohio. This wasn’t my decision; I didn’t quit my job. The governor ordered this shutdown.”

Dunn has started the new process to apply for unemployment, but she was disappointed to find out that because her wage is only $4.25 per hour, she will be able to collect a fraction of what she actually made a week.

“I’ll be getting $150 a week, but I normally take home $600 to $700 a week. It is really going to affect how I make my car payment, pay my insurance and rent. I am little scared about what is going to happen with that. I am trying to apply for some other jobs. But everyone else in the same boat is going to be thinking the same thing,” Dunn said.

She’s worried about how people will start behaving. “I am also worried the panic will set in and people will go crazy. The risk of losing homes and car, but also the risk of people panicking and looting or something like that. I am concerned about our safety, too,” Dunn said.

Zach Shiller, a director of research for Policy Matters Ohio, wants DeWine to do more.

“The governor’s order is welcome news to Ohioans who find themselves out of work because of COVID-19. We applaud him for taking this step, which takes advantage of guidance last week from the U.S. Department of Labor,” he said in a news release.

“That said, many of the restaurant workers who are jobless won’t be able to take advantage of this assistance because they don’t meet Ohio’s stringent earnings test for unemployment compensation. An employee who had been paid the minimum wage and working 30 hours per week won’t qualify for benefits because they didn’t average the requisite $269 per week. Nor would an employee who was paid $10 per hour working 25 hours per week.

“Gov. DeWine should ask the General Assembly to reduce that minimum amount so more workers qualify for unemployment compensation. The General Assembly should take steps to arrange to pass emergency legislation on COVID-19, just as Congress is considering. If Congress does not approve paid sick time for the large majority of workers, Ohio legislators should do so,” Shiller states.

There were 505,450 food preparation and serving-related jobs in Ohio in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their mean hourly wage is $11.11 per hour, with a mean annual wage of $23,100.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is instructing Ohio employers planning layoffs or shutdowns as a result the coronavirus pandemic to share this mass layoff number with their employees to speed the processing of unemployment benefits: 2000180. The agency also is providing instructions for employers to share with their employees about how to apply for benefits.

Ohioans can apply for unemployment online 24 hours per day, seven days per week, at unemployment.ohio.gov. It also is possible to file by phone 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 877-OHIO-JOB (1-877-644-6562) or TTY at 888-642-8203.

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