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Week in Review: Sept.12, 2021

Written on Sep 10, 2021

Provided by Hannah News Service

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Ohio's plan to distribute the more than $800 million it's expected to receive through a national settlement agreement with three opioid distributors is superior to the distribution process employed by the state following the Tobacco Master Settlement in 1998, according to policy experts from the Center for Community Solutions. However, both CCS' Loren Anthes and Kent State University College of Public Health instructor Ken Slenkovich said the OneOhio plan has room for improvement. Slenkovich, who was the founding program director for the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation, joined Anthes for a Zoom press conference with reporters on Thursday.

FY22-23 BUDGET

Tax revenues beat estimates by more than $15 million in August, with sales tax figures diminished by payments to counties but more than offset by stronger than expected income tax collections, according to preliminary figures from the Office of Budget and Management. Two months into FY22, the state is $40 million or about 1% ahead of projections with roughly $4.3 billion collected. Sales taxes yielded $1.05 billion versus $1.07 billion projected, lagging by $18.9 million or 1.8%. Within that category, non-auto sales tax was off by $19.6 million or 2.2%, while auto sales tax was up by 0.4% or $672,000.

ECONOMY

Financial advisory website WalletHub ranked Ohio 23rd on a scale of "States Recovering the Quickest from COVID-19" that was released Wednesday. This includes subrankings of 19th in "COVID Health," 26th in "Leisure and Travel" and 44th in "Economy and Labor Market." The study used 17 metrics, including rate of full vaccination and real GDP compared to pre-COVID data. WalletHub said the progress toward economic recovery "has been largely possible because of its public health improvements due to the distribution of the vaccine." The national rate of full vaccination is 53 percent as of Tuesday, while Ohio's rate is 48.5 percent.

For the week ending Sept. 4, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 13,509 initial traditional unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is slightly lower than last week, when the department reported 13,740 traditional jobless claims. The week before that, ODJFS reported 8,182 traditional jobless claims. Ohioans filed 130,618 continued traditional unemployment claims last week, which was 3,542 fewer than the previous week.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

The nation saw an increase of 235,000 jobs in August and a 0.2% drop in the unemployment rate to 5.2%, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. Monthly job growth throughout the year has averaged 586,000. Notable gains for August were in professional and business services; transportation and warehousing; private education; manufacturing; and other services. The number of unemployed persons fell to 8.4 million, BLS said, following a "large decrease" in July. Unemployment rates declined for adult men (5.1%) in August, while the rate for teenagers (11.2%) increased. There was little change in rates among adult women (4.8%), Blacks (8.8%), Asians (4.6%) and Hispanics (6.4%).

ENERGY

Columbia Gas of Ohio calls its current rates "unjust" and wants to hike distribution charges to residential customers by as much as 30 percent. Smaller homes and schools would see the largest overall increase. The proposed rate plan would raise monthly delivery costs at schools consuming up to 4 Mcf (40,000 cubic ft.) of natural gas by 15-30 percent, more than doubling Columbia Gas profits as early as 2021 or 2022. The gas company filed notice of its new rate plan at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in May and has since provided a summary of proposed increases, expert testimony from commission hearings, and complex technical and fiscal documents numbering into the thousands of pages.

FEDERAL

President Joe Biden announced Thursday a six-pronged national strategy to address the pandemic in the coming months, particularly in regard to keeping schools open and protecting the economic recovery.

Among steps to promote vaccination, the Biden administration plans to use regulatory authority through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to require that all businesses with 100 or more employees ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or have unvaccinated workers produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis. OSHA will also require these businesses to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and recover from any subsequent side effects.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

The Ohio House Democratic Caucus can now begin the process of selecting a candidate to fill the 26th Ohio House district seat vacated by former Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus) earlier this summer. Crawley left to take on a new role as Franklin County commissioner. Eleven individuals applied to fill the seat by the Friday, Sept. 3 deadline. The next steps in the process will be to name a screening committee and to schedule interviews, which the House Democratic Caucus hopes to complete in the next two weeks. House District 26 applicants include the following: Danny Kilgore, Pastor Frederick LaMarr, Marc Gofstein, Glen Tuomaala, Kimberly Mason, Kelley Freeman, Gregory Lee, Alexis Pannell, Latyna Humphrey, Michael Cole and Ellen Hana Abdur-Rahim.

MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM

When the federal government decides to declare an official end of the public health emergency (PHE) -- something the Delta variant might delay -- that will trigger an end to the freeze on removing people from Medicaid based on eligibility reviews, which has substantially expanded the number of Ohioans enrolled in the health care program. Medicaid cannot remove anyone from the program while the emergency is ongoing unless they ask for removal, die or move out of state. The redetermination freeze is a condition of receiving enhanced federal matching funds for Medicaid. At the end of 2019, about 2,781,000 Ohioans were on Medicaid. As of July, that figure stood near 3,240,000. "It's a huge challenge," said Patrick Beatty, policy chief for the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM), in an interview with Hannah News alongside Maureen Corcoran, director of ODM. Corcoran said several thousand people are leaving the

Medicaid rolls monthly for the few permissible removal reasons, but the state gets tens of thousands of applications in the meantime. Lawmakers used the biennial budget, HB110 (Oelslager), to set some parameters for how ODM should approach the much larger number of redeterminations.

REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT

The Republican majority on the Ohio Redistricting Commission accepted new House and Senate maps drawn by the legislative Republican Caucus as their working documents on Thursday along a party-line vote, though members of the commission still held out hope for a bipartisan deal before next week's deadline that would implement a 10-year map rather than a four-year map that would come should neither Democratic member sign on. Two members -- Auditor Keith Faber and Secretary of State Frank LaRose -- said that they had concerns over the maps but voted to move the process along, with Faber committing himself and his staff to working with the legislative leaders on the panel to try to come up with a deal this weekend. Questions also lingered over what might happen if the commission misses its constitutional deadline on Wednesday, Sept. 15, and whether a deal could come late as long as all parties were in agreement. House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) sees this as the beginning of the process, noting the action taken was needed to commence the next steps including public hearings statewide to solicit community input. The schedule for those hearings includes an evening hearing in Dayton on Sunday; an evening hearing in Cleveland on Monday; a morning hearing on Tuesday in Columbus with remote testimony from Marietta in Washington County; and a full commission meeting Wednesday in Columbus. The House cleared room for the commission by cancelling its Wednesday session.