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Week in review: Aug. 1, 2021

Written on Jul 30, 2021

AGRICULTURE

While the 2021 Ohio State Fair is lacking many of its usual attractions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state's livestock exhibitors and their guests will experience a particularly "spectacular" competition, according to Ohio Expo Center & State Fair General Manager Virgil Strickler. He explained during Wednesday's Ohio Expositions Commission meeting in the Ohio Building on the state fairgrounds that this year is a "total agricultural fair." Strickler and members of the commission had voted earlier to limit the fair to agricultural and educational activities.

ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT

The Ohio Arts Council Board approved more than $18.4 million in grants to support artists, arts/cultural organizations, students, educators and public arts programming during its summer meeting. That is the largest amount of OAC grant dollars distributed to applicants in the agency's history, according to OAC. There were 746 grants approved at the meeting.

CITIES

Speaking at a "Future Cities" forum hosted by the digital publication Route Fifty, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Paduto said Monday that Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky could lose 100,000 jobs if they do not act in regard to a coming shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Alternatively, he said the right actions could lead to 400,000 union jobs in the four-state Ohio Valley region.

The final day of the "Future Cities" forum included a discussion on how local businesses can recover from the pandemic. Institute for Local Self-Reliance Senior Researcher Kennedy Smith hosted the panel, which included Pittsburgh City Council Member Erika Strassburger and Civic Innovation Project Founder and Director Lourdes German. Smith started with an overview of funding in the American Rescue Plan, including $350 billion for state and local fiscal recovery funds; and specialized relief such as the Shuttered Venue Operators grants and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Both of those specialized items were quickly depleted, she said, but could receive additional funding through new legislation. A number of federal agencies also received dedicated funding for this purpose, Smith added, including $3 billion to the Economic Development Administration, which recently announced plans on how that will be used; and $135 million to the National Endowment for the Arts.

CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Wednesday that all state of Ohio employees will be offered $100 to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Spouses of state employees are eligible to receive a $25 financial incentive to get vaccinated. "State employees and their spouses are encouraged to protect themselves, their families, and their communities by getting a COVID-19 vaccination," said DeWine in a statement. "Vaccines are the most effective strategy at stopping the spread of COVID-19 and preventing serious illness. I urge all Ohio employers to encourage their employees to get vaccinated, whether that's through financial incentives, paid leave programs, or other incentives."

A recent Scioto Analysis survey of 27 economists on the Ohio Vax-a-Million program found 12 considered it to be cost-effective, six did not and nine were uncertain. The program ended on June 23 after five weekly drawings. Since, a number of states offered similar incentives.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that Ohio is receiving $1,337,283 to support rural health clinics with vaccination efforts, particularly as many communities face increased challenges caused by the Delta variant. The funds will go to 27 rural health clinics, which will use these resources to combat COVID-19 misinformation by developing and implementing additional vaccine confidence and outreach efforts. The funding is from the American Rescue Plan and is being administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration through the Rural Health Clinic Vaccine Confidence Program.

Over the week, COVID cases in the state started increasing significantly with the Ohio Department of Health reporting Tuesday a jump of 1,317 cases, far exceeding the three-week average of 537 daily cases and marking the first since mid-May that the state reported more than 1,000 daily cases. Hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and deaths reported in the past day also exceeded their three-week averages. ODH reported 127 hospitalizations in the past day, compared to an average of 43. ODH reported 535 people were in hospitals with confirmed COVID cases as of Tuesday. Thursday saw another 1,205 COVID-19 cases reported, nearly double the now 21-day average of 631. Ohio has had a total of 1,126,625 cases since the pandemic began. There have been a total of 20,490 deaths in the state.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that residents of areas with "high" or "substantial" COVID-19 transmission rates resume wearing masks in public indoor settings regardless of vaccine status includes 23 Ohio counties, according to the latest data from July 19-25. Adams, Columbiana, Gallia and Lawrence counties are at the "high" level, defined by the CDC as 100 or more cases per 100,000 population in the previous seven days, or having a positive test rate of at least 10%.

EDUCATION

The Ohio Department of Health is not including any mandates in its guidance for the resumption of school this fall, but strongly recommends the unvaccinated wear masks and that as many school employees and students as possible be vaccinated. Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for ODH, joined pediatricians from children's hospitals in Cincinnati and Akron to discuss state guidance for K-12 schools Monday. Vaccination remains the best protection and is strongly recommended for all school employees and students ages 12 and up, who are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, said Vanderhoff. He urged those with questions or concerns about the vaccines to take them up with a trusted health care professional like a doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Addressing one reported side effect in children, cases of myocarditis or inflammation of the heart muscle, Vanderhoff said children are more likely to suffer from that condition as a result of catching COVID than from the vaccine.

Health departments for Columbus and Franklin County jointly recommended Wednesday that all students and employees at schools in the city and county wear masks when classes resume, regardless of vaccinated status, a more expansive recommendation than the Ohio Department of Health's call earlier this week for the unvaccinated to wear masks in school. The Ohio Education Association also backed mask policies, saying local districts should "follow science, not political rhetoric" on the issue. "Educators want nothing more than to return to full, in-person instruction this fall," said OEA President Scott DiMauro in a statement. "But we want to make sure that when we do, we do so safely for our kids and communities."

The U.S. Department of Education released almost $22 million to Ohio this week from American Rescue Plan funding set aside to address the education of students experiencing homelessness. It's the second and larger installment of a total $29.3 million Ohio is getting via the Homeless Children and Youth program from the federal COVID relief package. Funding totals $800 million nationwide, with $600 million included in this latest release of funds.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

For the week ending July 24, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 10,603 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is lower than last week when the department reported 12,619 jobless claims. Ohioans filed 155,935 continued traditional unemployment claims last week, which was 4,796 fewer than the previous week, ODJFS said.

GREAT LAKES

Saying he is angry and frustrated, Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, Friday said he is introducing legislation that will increase fines against municipalities that are caught intentionally dumping raw sewage into Lake Erie. At a Statehouse press conference, Cross noted a recent news story about the city of Maumee self-reporting that it had dumped 150 million gallons of untreated sewage into Lake Erie over the past 20 years. He called it "unacceptable."

HIGHER EDUCATION

Kent State Trumbull and LaunchNET Kent State will be joining Sinclair Community College to complete the new "2+2 program partnership," the university said. Sinclair has been offering an Associate in Business Management degree at the Trumbull Correctional Institution for two years. Along with the degree, students can complete a certificate in entrepreneurship through the program.

HOUSING

Ohio home sales reached 16,552 in June, a 10.2% increase from activity a year earlier, according to Ohio Realtors. The average sales price of $256,094 represented a 17.9% increase from the average price in June 2020. First-half sales of 75,536 are 10.6% ahead of where they were at this point in 2020, and the average price for the initial six months of the year of $232,780 is 15.8% higher.

MARIJUANA/HEMP

An initiated statute to legalize marijuana for adults aged 21 and older was filed with the Ohio Attorney General's Office on Tuesday. With its submission of the proposed law's summary language and 1,000 signatures, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol officially launched its campaign to end marijuana prohibition in Ohio, according to the organization. The proposed law would legalize and regulate the cultivation, manufacture, testing and sale of marijuana and marijuana products in Ohio. Additionally, the law would allow those age 21 and over to grow marijuana at home, with a limit of six plants per person and 12 plants per household with two or more adult cannabis users.

MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM

A campaign by Ohio's Medicaid managed care plans to get more Ohioans vaccinated against COVID-19 kicked into a higher gear Monday with their increasing the value of their offer of a gift card for any Medicaid member receiving the first vaccination shot from $50 to $100. In addition, a new deadline of Wednesday, Sept. 15 was set to participate. The original $50 gift card offer was set to expire Aug. 15. According to the plans – Aetna, Buckeye Health Plan, CareSource, Molina Healthcare, Paramount Advantage and UnitedHealthcare – they have made "finding and getting the vaccine easier than ever" with Vax on the Spot (www.covidvaxonthespot.com), a website with information on community vaccine events and walk-in opportunities at pharmacies. The site also gives details on how members can get the $100 incentive.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Recreational shooters can use any of Ohio's public shooting ranges on Saturday, Aug. 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. without being charged, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife. On "Free Range Day," the shooting range permit requirement is waived at all ODNR Division of Wildlife Class A, B and C shooting ranges, ODNR said. The following public ranges will have ODNR Division of Wildlife staff onsite to assist shooters:

  • Deer Creek Wildlife Area, located at the corner of State Route 207 and Cook Yankeetown Rd. NE in Mount Sterling.
  • Delaware Wildlife Area, located at 1110 State Route 229 in Ashley.
  • Grand River Wildlife Area, located at 6693 Hoffman Norton Rd. in Bristolville.
  • Spring Valley Wildlife Area, located at 3570 Houston Rd. in Waynesville.
  • Woodbury Wildlife Area, located at 41384 State Route 541 in Warsaw.

A complete list of range facilities can be found at wildohio.gov.

The ODNR Division of Wildlife launched a new incentive program that makes it easier for Ohio hunters to access participating landowner properties during the hunting season. Enrollment for the Ohio Landowner and Hunter Access Partnership program is underway now, according to ODNR. Once enrolled, participating landowners receive annual payments ranging from $2 to $30 per acre, depending on the characteristics of the property and recreational opportunities available. Enrollment contracts are for two to three years, with the possibility of an extension. A list of rules is provided to participating hunters before accessing a property.

REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT

The U.S. Census Bureau this week reiterated its intent to provide redistricting data to states by Aug. 16, but whether the Ohio Redistricting Commission that draws the lines for the General Assembly and may play a role in drawing congressional lines meets before then is still up in the air. The Census Bureau said in a court filing in a case brought by Attorney General Dave Yost that it still is on track to release data that states can then begin using to draw district lines by Monday, Aug. 16. In a blog post on the bureau's website, Acting Director Ron Jarmin also laid out the timeline for the release of data, saying it will come in two batches. The first release on Aug. 16 will be timelier in its delivery, he said, while the second release by Thursday, Sept. 30, will be easier to use.

SECRETARY OF STATE

Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Friday that 17,387 new business filings were made with his office in June. In just the first six months of 2021, Ohio has surpassed 111,000 new business filings. Five years ago in 2016, it took an entire year for Ohioans to create 105,009 new businesses, the secretary of state said.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

Jobless Ohioans will not immediately see an extra $300 reappear in their weekly unemployment benefit checks. Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Holbrook on Thursday rejected a motion seeking to require the DeWine administration to immediately reinstate the supplemental unemployment benefits provided under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this year on June 26 ended Ohio's participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, a COVID relief initiative that offered an additional $300 in unemployment benefits. He cited the arguments of business groups who said the supplemental benefits were driving workforce shortages. The program officially expires Sept. 6.

Ohio has paid more than $2 billion in false unemployment compensation claims since the onset of COVID-19, and some constituents with valid claims continue to have difficulty communicating with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and resolving problems with delayed and denied payments. As of April, however, the Public-Private Partnership Team launched by the governor to help correct those inefficiencies has managed to eliminate the overwhelming majority of fraudulent unemployment claims, increase call center capacity 65% and reduce repeat callers by half. That's the takeaway from Thursday's draft report of the Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council, which has been meeting since February as the P3 Team led by financial services executive Jeff Ficke has worked to fix the state's traditional unemployment insurance and pandemic unemployment insurance systems.