Key benefits expire, shutdown looms as relief bill remains unsigned

Monroe is considering a mandatory mask ordinance to help prevent the spread of coronavirus COVID-19. Last week, the Butler County Emergency Management Agency has partnered with fire departments around the county to make masks available Butler County residents. Carla Southard pics up masks for her family at the Fairfield Township Fire Department headquarters on Morris Road Friday, July 10, 2020. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Monroe is considering a mandatory mask ordinance to help prevent the spread of coronavirus COVID-19. Last week, the Butler County Emergency Management Agency has partnered with fire departments around the county to make masks available Butler County residents. Carla Southard pics up masks for her family at the Fairfield Township Fire Department headquarters on Morris Road Friday, July 10, 2020. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

On hold are $600 direct payments to children and qualifying adults

The COVID-19 relief bill remained unsigned by President Trump Sunday evening, leaving key federal unemployment benefits expired and raising the possibility of an end-of-the-year government shutdown that could impact local federal jobs.

The relief bill waiting for Trump’s signature offers an extra $300-a-week in benefits through March 14.

A lingering potential complication: If Trump does not relent and sign the bill, the U.S. government runs out of money at midnight Dec. 28. If that happens, tens of thousands of workers could be furloughed, possibly affecting non-essential workers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and across the federal government.

It was unclear Sunday whether Wright-Patterson has any instructions on how to implement or navigate a government shutdown. Questions were sent to a spokeswoman for the 88th Air Base Wing, the organization that oversees base infrastructure, security and other operations. The base is a Dayton-area economic engine and the state’s largest single-site employer with more than 30,000 military and civilian employees.

The two expired unemployment programs are the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, available mostly to the self-employed, temporary gig workers and others who are not usually eligible for state unemployment aid. The other, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), provided up to 13 weeks of additional payments to those who have exhausted other benefits.

While the bill remains in limbo, $600 direct payments for qualifying adults and $600 for each dependent and child are on hold. Trump has urged Congress to raise those payments to $2,000.

A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said the state is declining to comment at length on the federal relief bill until Trump signs it and the U.S. Department of Labor interprets its provisions for states.

“We are closely examining the legislation Congress enacted extending the pandemic unemployment programs and benefits created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act,” said Tom Betti, an ODJFS spokesman. “As soon as we receive guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on some of the details, we will implement the new provisions as quickly as possible so we can assist those in need.”

ODJFS “system programming” will be needed to implement any new benefits, Betti added. “We ask for everyone’s patience as we undertake that effort. Ohio stands ready assist those in need as quickly as we can.”

The way to attain or regain benefits that have expired isn’t clear.

More than 22 million American jobs were lost in the spring as the COVID-19 pandemic was first keenly felt domestically. About 12 million of those jobs have been recovered through last month, but unemployment remains quite high nationally and statewide.

A Brookings Institution report this month found that some 10 million workers will lose unemployment compensation on Dec. 26.

Ohioans filed just over 274,000 claims for jobless benefits last week. Over the past 40 weeks, the state has paid out more than $7.6 billion in unemployment compensation payments to more than 875,000 residents, according to numbers from the state.

Meanwhile, the global pandemic remains an ongoing concern. According to the latest numbers offered Sunday by the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio has seen 605,214 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 5,857 of those cases counted as new, the lowest number of new cases since Dec. 16.

The state also reported 33 deaths and 273 hospitalizations Sunday, bringing the total number of dead to 8,509 and total hospitalizations to 36,786.

“It’s nine months into this,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Sunday on the Face the Nation program. “People are tired of it, so I get it. And we’ve asked people to make sacrifices. But my message to the people of Ohio continues to be, we should do everything we can to save lives, and hope is there. The vaccine is here.”

He added: “This is not the time to pull back. This is not the time to give up. We also have to try to work that balance because we know with a complete shutdown, we know there’s downsides to that as well.”

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