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Week in Review: Feb. 14, 2021

Written on Feb 12, 2021
Provided by Hannah News Service

FY20-21 BUDGET

The state's revenues continue to exceed estimates with January's coming in $81.3 million or 3.6% overestimates, the Office of Budget of Management announced Monday in releasing the preliminary January figures. Compared to a year ago, revenues for FY21 are running $1,055.5 million or 7.6% ahead. A total of nearly $15,027.8 million has been collected through January 2021 compared to nearly $13,972.3 million collected through January 2020.

FY22-23 BUDGET

The House Finance Committee Thursday posted a draft of the FY22-23 operating budget bill which Chairman Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) has filed with the House Clerk's Office for formal introduction on Tuesday, Feb. 16 when it will receive an official number. That document can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/2kn5oojg .

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kimberly Henderson spent the majority of her time in the House Finance Committee Wednesday fielding questions from lawmakers about the number of fraudulent unemployment claims in the state and what the department is doing about the issue moving forward. Henderson's testimony on the FY22-23 executive budget highlighted several major priorities beginning with ensuring stable Ohio families. Henderson outlined various programs the department oversees such as food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other pandemic-related programs such as the Pandemic Child Care Program, which served more than 24,000 children of essential workers last spring.

BUSINESS/CORPORATE

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce released its public policy priorities for the 134th General Assembly Thursday, saying they "build on recent, pro-growth policy successes that have resulted in Ohio now being recognized nationally as among the 10 best states for businesses" while also seeking more action to help address economic effects of the pandemic. In addition to advancing policies that make the state "more business-friendly and competitive," the Ohio Chamber has also partnered to support the U.S. Chamber's "Equality of Opportunity Agenda." As a result, the chamber's list of priorities include recommendations on race-based opportunity gaps.

CORONAVIRUS

The state's coronavirus curfew has been completely lifted after Ohio saw fewer than 2,500 hospitalizations for seven straight days, Gov. Mike DeWine announced during his briefing on Thursday. The curfew was initially moved back to 11 p.m. two weeks ago after the state experienced seven straight days with coronavirus-related hospitalizations below 3,500. Within that two-week period, the state's hospitalizations dropped quickly enough to completely avoid the potential midnight curfew, which would have been in place if hospitalizations were under 3,000 for seven straight days, but higher than 2,500.

Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday announced that Ohio Department of Health Director (ODH) Director Stephanie McCloud signed an amended health order that allowed buffets, salad bars, and other "self-service food stations" in restaurants, bars, banquet and other catering facilities to reopen as long as they meet certain conditions. The new order took effect at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday.

EDUCATION

The State Board of Education heard an overview Monday of the findings by Auditor Keith Faber and his Ohio Performance Team in the recently released performance audit of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). Lawmakers ordered a performance audit of ODE in the last biennial budget bill, 133-HB166 (Oelslager). Faber and Betsy Bashore of the Ohio Performance Team walked the board through the five general areas reviewed in the audit: student success; student assessments; Education Management Information System (EMIS) and data management; state foundation payment process; and information technology.

Gov. Mike DeWine reaffirmed his commitment to getting students back to in-person learning next month during his Tuesday briefing. The governor said his executive budget, announced last week, would expand the investment in student wellness and success programs to $1.1 billion. DeWine also asked that school districts design plans to meet the needs of the students in their districts that include ending the school year later than scheduled, beginning the new year early, or even extending the school day.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

The U.S. unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage points to 6.3% in January, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Non-farm payroll employment increased slightly as the American economy added 49,000 jobs, BLS said.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will again be available to 134,000 Ohioans following the completion of system upgrades over the weekend, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services announced Monday. These Ohioans have been waiting to access these benefits since the original program expired on Dec. 26, ODJFS said. The upgrades also allow Ohioans to submit new PUA applications.

According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, if the December employment rebound after the initial COVID-19 disruptions continues throughout 2021 in a similar magnitude, total employment is predicted to increase at an annual rate of 1.92% for the next six months in Ohio.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) will celebrate Black History Month throughout February with a free "living history" performance each Tuesday at noon, which will be livestreamed on www.OhioStatehouse.gov.

The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board would receive an appropriation of up to $500,000 in FY21 to install security upgrades at the Ohio Statehouse under legislation proposed by Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell). "The funds will pay for, install and replace a minimum of 60 high-definition cameras and include new imaging software that will enhance Statehouse security operations as well as other security enhancements deemed appropriate by CSRAB staff. After several conversations with Laura Battocletti, director of CSRAB, the need for security upgrades is great and long overdue," Brenner told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

JUDICIAL

The Ohio judiciary will have "a major role in determining eligibility for $100 million in new federal Home Relief Grants announced by the DeWine administration to assist renters facing eviction or utility disconnection due to the COVID-19 downturn," according to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor. The governor announced the latest round of funding this week from the Federal Consolidated Appropriations Act, which is providing the grants during the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium running through March 31.

MILITARY AFFAIRS

The Ohio National Guard announced Thursday that it is now assisting in vaccine efforts alongside the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Department of Aging and community partners in order to ensure eligible Ohioans can receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

POVERTY

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published its revised poverty guidelines for 2021 in the Feb. 1 issue of the Federal Register, although the guidelines became applicable on Wednesday, Jan. 13. The guideline for a one-person household is $12,880, and for a four-person household, $26,500, with $4,540 added for each additional person in the household.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

The huge increase in initial unemployment claims filed between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6 is suspected to have been caused by fraudulent activity, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services announced Thursday. The 140,444 new jobless claims represent a 194% increase from the prior week. At least 44,000 of last week's claims have already been flagged for suspicious activity and are under review, according to the department.

Possible victims of unemployment fraud must report the suspected fraud or they could face higher taxes, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has already identified more than 80,000 cases of unemployment fraud by criminals using stolen identities, and thousands more could be identified in the weeks ahead. Victims of that identity theft who have received a 1099-G from ODJFS showing that they received unemployment benefits -- but never applied for benefits -- could potentially pay federal and state tax on that unreceived benefit if they don't act to correct the record.