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DeWine ends extra $300 in aid to jobless

Contending the extra $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit is “discouraging” people from returning to work, Gov. Mike DeWine said Ohio will stop accepting it starting June 26.

“That extra $300 a week in federal pandemic unemployment compensation is, in some cases, discouraging people from going back at this point in time,” DeWine said Thursday.

When the program was put in place, DeWine said: “It was a lifeline for many Americans at a time when the only weapon we had in fighting the virus was to slow its spread through social distancing, masking and sanitization. That is no longer the case. That is no longer our only tool in this fight. This assistance was always intended to be temporary.”

The $300 benefit was to end in September.

“This couldn’t go on forever,” said DeWine, adding that the state is “moving it up a little bit.”

The state’s unemployment rate is 4.7 percent. It was 4 percent when the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020.

Specifically asked for evidence that people weren’t going back to work because of the $300 benefit, DeWine didn’t give a direct answer.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said: “You’ve asked for data. I’ve actually talked to individuals who’ve said to me it doesn’t make sense for me to go back to work because I make more on unemployment.”

The decision was sharply criticized by Democratic leaders.

State Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, said: “This is threatening people with poverty if they aren’t willing to work for poverty wages,” and “Republicans are rejecting money flowing into our state from other states — money going to the poorest Ohioans — the ones who need it the most, and the ones who are also the most likely to spend that money to jumpstart our local economy.”

But the Ohio Chamber of Commerce said: “Making this decision now is the right thing to do and will bolster Ohio’s economic recovery.”

HEALTH ORDERS ENDING

DeWine’s decision came a day after he announced he was lifting all health orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, except those for nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, effective June 2.

It was a reversal from his March 4 announcement — and repeated several times as recently as last week — that he would lift all COVID-19 pandemic health orders if the state got to as few as 50 cases per 100,000 for two weeks. At the time, the number was 179.7 per 100,000.

The number of cases per 100,000 has declined for four straight weeks. But it was at 119.9 cases per 100,000 Thursday. That’s more than two times higher than what DeWine has repeatedly said was needed to lift the orders.

“Ohioans have done a great job protecting each other during the pandemic,” DeWine said.

To get to 50 cases per 100,000, the state would need to average no more than 417 cases per day for a two-week period. It was almost triple that Thursday.

“We’re not where we want to be yet,” DeWine said.

He said he didn’t know when the state would get to 50 cases per 100,000.

DeWine said he made the decision to lift the restrictions — including face masks, social distancing and limitations on people getting together indoors — “after talking to a lot of medical experts and thinking about it that the time was now.”

He added: “We now have within the grasp of every Ohioan the ability to protect themselves” through vaccinations.

DeWine’s decision comes as the demand for the COVID-19 vaccine in the state is significantly declining.

DeWine also defended himself against criticism from Democrats and Republicans about his decision to have five weekly drawings, starting May 26, with a prize of $1 million each for those at least 18 years old who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The money will come from unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds.

“The money was sent to the state with the specific purpose of helping us battle COVID,” he said. “There is no more effective tool, the most effective tool, today is the vaccine.”

DeWine said the decision to give away the money was his idea.

Asked Thursday if it was a legal use of federal COVID-19 funds, Attorney General Dave Yost, who’s a Republican like DeWine and Husted, said: “At first blush, the concept does not appear to violate state law, though that will be dependent upon how it is designed. We will continue to review as additional details are made public. Just because a thing may be legally done does not mean it should be done.”

Allison Dumski, spokeswoman for state Auditor Keith Faber, said: “While Auditor Faber might disagree with the policy, the governor has wide latitude in using these federal funds to promote vaccine participation. Our initial review of the program does appear legal under these federal guidelines, and we will participate as necessary to achieve transparency in any ultimate program.”

COVID-19 DATA

The 1,161 new cases reported Thursday was down from the daily average of 1,344 for the past 21 days, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Cases have been below 1,500 a day since May 2.

The state had a total of 1,088,343 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday with 1,041,481 presumed recovered.

The ODH provides death information on Tuesday and Friday. There were 19,411 total COVID-19 deaths as of Tuesday.

Mahoning County had 21,701 total COVID-19 cases as of Thursday with 20,461 presumed recovered and 588 deaths, according to the ODH.

Trumbull County had 16,120 total COVID-19 cases as of Thursday with 15,203 presumed recovered and 468 deaths.

Columbiana County had 8,842 total COVID-19 cases as of Thursday with 8,390 presumed recovered and 229 deaths.

VACCINATIONS

There were 4,915,037 people, 42.05 percent of the state’s population, who had at least started getting inoculated as of 6 a.m. Thursday, including 26,345 in the previous 24 hours, according to the ODH.

In Mahoning County, 41.32 percent of the population (94,483 people) had received at least one dose with 39.42 percent of the population in Trumbull County (78,044 people) and 33.65 percent in Columbiana County (34,285 people) as of 6 a.m. Thursday, according to the ODH.

There were 4,293,006 people, 36.73 percent of the state’s population,who finished the vaccinations as of 6 a.m. Thursday, including 26,345 in the prior 24 hours.

In Mahoning County, 36.01percent of the population (82,356 people) had completed the process while 34 percent of the population in Trumbull (67,313 people) and 29.85 percent of the population in Columbiana (30,416 people) had as of 6 a.m. Thursday.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

dskolnick@vindy.com

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