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Week in Review: Feb. 20, 2022

Written on Feb 18, 2022

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Friday released its quarterly update on unemployment overpayments, identifying approximately $5.8 billion in fraud and non-fraud payments since the beginning of the pandemic through Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. ODJFS said the overpayments are attributable to both fraudulent and non-fraudulent activity in both the traditional unemployment and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programs. They include any weekly monetary add-ons claimants received, called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. The overpayments include the following:

- $51 million in fraudulent overpayments in the traditional unemployment system.

- $455 million in fraudulent PUA overpayments.

- $784 million in non-fraud overpayments in the traditional system.

- $4.5 billion in non-fraud PUA overpayments.


AGRICULTURE

Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague opened the Ag-LINK application period Monday, announcing it will be available year-round for the first time. The program helps Ohio farmers and agribusinesses finance the upfront costs of the year's growing season by providing reduced interest loans. The period will now be broken into four quarters, with new reduced interest rate figures announced at the start of each quarter. As of Monday, Ag-LINK will provide a 0.5% interest rate reduction on loans at eligible banks, credit unions and farm credit lenders. Eligibility requirements include being organized for profit; having headquarters and at least 51% of operations in Ohio; using the loan exclusively for agricultural purposes; and complying with all program and financial institution regulations.

AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY

While he called it a "work in progress," Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem) said new legislation will expand the production of electric vehicles in Ohio and provide necessary charging infrastructure for the future. It has the following four elements according to Rulli:

- Providing $15 million for factory retooling and $10 million in education grants for workforce retraining.

- Encouraging growth in EV usage within Ohio by both individual drivers and corporate fleets.

- Creating an EV task force to identify how Ohio can stand out among other states in the next 20 years.

- Providing more EV charging infrastructure, including through use of dedicated federal funds.

CORONAVIRUS

COVID cases and hospitalization figures have continued to decline as February is now half over, with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reporting 1,312 new cases, 99 hospitalizations and 22 ICU admissions Monday. The number of new cases reported by ODH has fallen each day since Tuesday, Feb. 8, when 4,385 new cases were reported. So far, the month has seen 52,703 new cases, 3,273 hospitalizations and 309 ICU admissions. By comparison, there were 291,596 cases, 5,216 hospitalizations and 478 ICU admissions between Jan. 1 and Jan. 14, though the case data included a backlog for Jan. 14.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The Department of Administrative Services announced that its Office of Procurement Services has two upcoming training webinars on the OhioBuys program for suppliers of goods and services to the state. OhioBuys is the state's "new online purchasing solution that empowers both government buyers and interested bidders and suppliers," according to DAS. More information on the program is available at https://tinyurl.com/4myrnrr3. One webinar on "Access and Responding to Solicitations" will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. on Friday, March 18. A second webinar, on "Revenue Share Reporting," will be from 10 to 11 a.m. on Friday, March 25.

ELECTIONS 2022

Secretary of State Frank LaRose on Wednesday released the list of statewide candidates whose filings have been verified by Ohio's county boards of elections and are therefore currently eligible to appear on the Tuesday, May 3 primary ballot. The Ohio Secretary of State's Office's directive containing the official form of the ballot for the primary will be issued on Tuesday, Feb. 22, after the filing deadline for write-in candidates. Protests against partisan candidates' petitions must be filed by 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18.

Candidates who filed to run but weren't included on the verified list were Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Graham; Democratic U.S. Senate candidate LaShondra Tinsley, a former case manager with the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services; Republican secretary of state candidate Terpsehore Maras, a QAnon influencer; and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Moreno, a businessman, who recently dropped out of the race.

GREAT LAKES

President Joe Biden visited Cleveland and Lorain on Thursday to tout the economic, cultural and recreational benefits of the Great Lakes and announce $1 billion from the recent federal infrastructure bill to restore the basin. Biden was joined U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) and Shontel Brown (D-Cleveland) at the speech. "That's what I want to talk a little bit about today, the historic investment we're going to make to restore the Great Lakes, strengthen the region's economy, provide clean drinking water, clean up our communities and create good paying jobs," Biden said. "For decades there was a lot of talk, a lot of plans, but very little progress. It was slow. That changes today," Biden said. Biden said the federal funding would help to accelerate the cleanup of six sites in the Great Lakes basin.

NATURAL RESOURCES

About $3 million in grants are available for projects to improve water quality in the Ohio River Basin through the creation or restoration of wetlands, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz announced recently. The program is funded as part of Ohio's 2022-23 operating budget, HB110 (Oelslager). This is the second round of funding available through the program, with $5 million awarded for 10 wetland projects in 2021. Wetlands help improve water quality by trapping, filtering, and removing excess pollutants and nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from the water before they flow into waterways and contribute to harmful algal blooms. ODNR is administering the Ohio River Basin H2Ohio Wetland Grant Program as part of the governor's H2Ohio initiative.

REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT

The Ohio Redistricting Commission Thursday adjourned without adopting a new General Assembly redistricting plan after majority Republicans on the panel rejected a proposed map by its Democratic members. The Republicans did not offer a proposal of their own, with Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) telling his fellow commissioners that with a tight 10-day time frame given by the Ohio Supreme Court, it was difficult to start from scratch on a new map that would follow the Court's instructions and be constitutional. Secretary of State Frank LaRose said majority mapmakers told him that they don't think they can do what the Court has asked them to do. The Court struck down the most recent maps Feb. 7, giving the Ohio Redistricting Commission 10 days to come up with new plans for the Ohio House and Senate. Among faults the Court highlighted were the number of Democratic-drawn districts that were considered more of a toss-up as well as the commission's starting with a map that was already rejected by the Court and revising that map.

TAXATION

Legislation that would make significant changes to Ohio's community reinvestment area laws would "incentivize careless investment practices" and inappropriately restrict the ability of school officials to participate in the process, according to Guillermo Bervejillo of Policy Matters Ohio. "At the end of the day, this bill prioritizes hypothetical outside investors over the flesh-and-blood children of Ohio," Bervejillo told the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Bervejillo, who holds a Ph.D. in economic geography, was one of several opponents and interested parties who provided testimony on HB123 (Fraizer-Cross) during the hearing.

TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE

A survey of academic economists in Ohio found the overwhelming majority disagreed that repealing increases to the state gas tax would benefit Ohio's economy. In December, Sen. Stephen Huffman (R-Tipp City) introduced SB277, a bill that would suspend for five years the increases to the state gas tax that became effective in 2019. The tax hike of 10.5 cents per gallon of gasoline and 19 cents per gallon on diesel was implemented to raise an additional $1 billion annually for Ohio Department of Transportation road and bridge maintenance projects.

This feature was provided by Hannah News Service and selected for you by OSCPA Government Relations staff.