Tens of thousands of Ohioans told to repay unemployment benefits

After waiting weeks for unemployment insurance payments, some are receiving letters demanding they pay back thousands; software troubles continue to dog system

Marnie Behan got a surprising message in April from Ohio’s Department of Jobs and Family Services about her ongoing unemployment payments. Instead of sending her next unemployment payment, they said she needed to pay the Department. The bill was almost $3,000. She had 45 days to repay it, or the case would be sent to the Ohio Attorney General. Since March 15, new claims have inundated the unemployment system at a level not seen since The Great Depression.

Slideshow: Protest Art

This slideshow is a sample of art drawn on buildings in Columbus' Short North district. To read Eye on Ohio's previous articles on police stops:

Investigation: Blacks, black neighborhoods most likely to be traffic stop targets in Ohio’s 3 biggest cities

Sidebar: Beleaguered Cincinnati agency probing stop complaints rarely faults cops

Sidebar: Can an officer's perception of you alter your ticket? Biracial man's 'white' tickets dismissed, 'black' tickets sustained

Families weigh the risks of sending a loved one to a nursing home during the coronavirus pandemic

Data analysis and Graphics by Cid Standifer 

In early March, just as Ohioans were learning about the first cases of novel coronavirus in the state, Anna Bondar’s grandfather fell at his Cleveland home. Luckily, the 92-year old, who lives with dementia, wasn’t injured badly. The tight-knit family started to discuss the possibility of a nursing home, though they had serious reservations. Their tough choice was made even more difficult by mounting fears about the coronavirus.  In nearly four months, COVID-19  has infected more than 31,191 people statewide and has proven particularly deadly for residents of long-term care facilities in Ohio. Seventy percent of the reported deaths in Ohio due to COVID-19 complications have been in long-term care facilities, which is among the highest in the country. 

Nationally the portion of COVID-19-related deaths in long-term care facilities has hovered just over 40%, though the amount of testing done in nursing homes varies significantly by state. 

Every day, families like Bondar’s are making what can feel like an impossible choice – whether to send a loved one to a nursing home where they will receive around-the-clock specialized care but face a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, or to care for that person at home where risk of transmission is lower but providing care can be more challenging. 

Even before the pandemic, sorting through the myriad of quality ratings and measures was daunting enough.

In Ohio’s coal country, pandemic pushes unemployment rate from bad to worse

As the novel coronavirus spread, Appalachian Ohio saw the state’s highest percentages of people out of work. Ohio’s coal mining counties have been hit even harder as unemployment surged following the country’s novel coronavirus outbreak. As the statewide unemployment rate moved from 4.7% in February to 5.6% in March, counties in Appalachian Ohio also saw rates twice as high — up to 12.2% in Monroe County. The six counties with the highest percentages of people out of work in March were all in the state’s Appalachian region. 

Job security has been an ongoing concern for coal miners and their communities, and the coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse. As of April, the U.S. coal industry had lost one in seven jobs since January, when doctors diagnosed the first U.S. case of COVID-19.

CDC Reverses Course Again on Using Race As Testing Criteria

Minority Groups with Higher Case and Death Rates Deemed a Priority, Then Not

After changing the guidelines to test ethnic minority groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19, the CDC reversed course again Wednesday, saying that African Americans exposed to the virus could not get tested without symptoms.

A May 3 directive allowed physicians to test “persons without symptoms who come from racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately affected by adverse COVID-19 outcomes—currently African Americans, Hispanics, and some American Indian tribes (e.g., Navajo Nation).” 

On May 6, however, all mention of race and ethnicity disappeared. The agency once again advised prioritizing persons with symptoms, especially if they were hospitalized, or were healthcare workers. Asymptomatic persons could be tested if  local health departments deemed it necessary for surveillance or monitoring, the CDC said. Nationally, CDC statistics reveal Blacks comprise 28 percent of the nation’s 1.5 million COVID cases and 21 percent of fatalities — more than double their percentage of the nation’s population. It’s a change that the National Medical Association, the nation’s oldest organization advocating for African American physicians and patients, has been advocating for since April 15.

Utilities, gas industry coordinate to oppose Ohio village’s clean energy goal

Emails obtained by a utility watchdog group reveal push by Dominion Energy and allies against a local resolution. Dominion Energy’s opposition to an Ohio village’s clean energy proposal appears to be part of a larger trend nationwide in which gas utilities are becoming more active at the local government level. Unlike other cases involving bans on new gas hook-ups, however, Bratenahl’s proposed resolution stated a general goal of achieving 100% clean energy, with no specific plan or enforcement provisions. The resolution would have set a goal of fully transitioning to clean energy for village-owned facilities by 2025 and for the general community of about 1,200 people by 2035. 

The proposal surfaced in November in the wake of state lawmakers gutting the state’s renewable energy standards last year. 

“In response, you have local communities stepping up to make commitments to 100% clean energy,” said Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute. Cleveland and Cincinnati had already committed in 2018 to move to 100% renewable energy for electricity.