Waivers now available for Pandemic Unemployment Overpayments

Officials say approvals will be ‘later this summer’; reaching a customer service rep still an exhaustive process

This article provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join their free mailing list as this helps them provide more public service reporting. Maggie Rose applied for pandemic unemployment assistance in April 2020 after the restaurant she was working in shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was quickly approved. 

Then a couple weeks ago, she received an email from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family services telling her to pay the balance owed on her account. 

Rose was overpaid $12,000 – something she said was extremely scary “for someone who’s just gone through a move, hasn’t gotten a job yet, I’m using the little bit of money I have left to bring my car here.” 

Rose recently moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and because she can’t afford to pay back the balance, she appealed. 

In April, nearly 1 in 5 PUA recipients got an anxiety-inducing letter in the mail: the state requesting money back. For many who needed pandemic unemployment assistance to tide them over in the first place, finding the time or money to appeal has been a struggle.

How one Ohio city lowered evictions and late rental payments

Early statistics from Cleveland's Right to Counsel program show promising results - but what will happen when that moratorium ends? East Side Cleveland resident Dennis Eads ran into some trouble paying rent last year. Eads, a father of five, said he was thankful to have kept his job at a warehouse in the Cleveland area despite the pandemic. But, some of his children got sick, which meant he couldn’t go to work. “I had to quarantine at the house; I couldn’t go outside, couldn’t go to work, couldn’t get paid,” he said.

Do you owe ODJFS because of a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance overpayment? You might be eligible for a waiver

State made $1.2 billion in accidental payments, which could be forgiven

This article is from Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join their free mailing list, as this helps provide more public service reporting. When Matthew Bishop started getting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance a year ago, it pulled him out of a tight spot. Bishop, who runs a small company called Gutenberg Author Services, lost all his customers when the economy imploded in March, and had moved out of his group house and in with his parents because he couldn’t make rent. PUA was a lifeline.

Sidebar— ‘Shut your Mouth’: Journalists Face a Rising Tide of Online Harassment

Exacerbated by a polarized political climate, an increasing number of reporters in the U.S. are facing unrelenting threats of violence and harassment from people online. Here in Columbus, several reporters have experienced harassment directly. “It was maybe a week after we ran the piece,” recalled Andy Downing, editor at Columbus Alive. “I started getting all these random calls on my cell phone, like from South Africa, just all over, leaving threatening voicemails.”

Downing said he then received a message from the other Alive editor who worked on the story, Joel Oliphint, telling him to check the homepage of The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website. Downing and Oliphint had spent more than four months in 2016-2017 reporting a story on Andrew Anglin, a Worthington native and founder of the Nazi website.

Utility and fossil fuel influence in Ohio goes beyond passage of bailout

Dark money loopholes remain, while people linked to utilities and fossil fuels hold public office or enjoy ongoing access to government officials. This article provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism in partnership with the nonprofit Energy News Network. Please join our free mailing list or the mailing list for the Energy New Network as this helps us provide more public service reporting. Dark money loopholes remain in Ohio law, despite last month’s surgical repeal of part of the law at the heart of a $60 million corruption scandal. Meanwhile, more evidence has emerged in recent months, detailing the flow of money by groups engaged in the House Bill 6 scandal and showing close ties between current and former utility lobbyists and Gov. Mike DeWine, as well as various lawmakers.

Utility and fossil fuel interests still ahead in Ohio under House Bill 6

A surgical repeal of parts of the 2019 bailout law means utilities, fossil fuel interests and nuclear plants still benefit. This article provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism in partnership with the nonprofit Energy News Network. Please join our free mailing list or the mailing list for the Energy New Network as this helps us provide more public service reporting. Utilities, fossil fuel interests and nuclear plants are still reaping advantages over clean energy in Ohio, despite last month’s repeal of part of the law at the heart of an alleged $60 million corruption scandal. A federal complaint released last July alleged an unlawful conspiracy to elect lawmakers who would favor Rep. Larry Householder as House speaker, secure passage of House Bill 6 and defend it against a referendum.

No Comprendo Covid: Pandemic reveals lack of bilingual health workers

In the early months of the pandemic, Cleveland Councilwoman Jasmin Santana, who represents a West Side ward with the densest population of Latinos in the city, said health department officials reassured her that when the city released urgent health updates, they would be translated into Spanish. 

It didn’t happen. 

The city put out public releases, sometimes daily, as the pandemic evolved – about safety precautions, work restrictions, and how many people were infected with the virus – but the information didn’t seem to make its way to the Spanish-speaking residents in Santana’s ward, where close to 40% of residents are Hispanic. 

When she pressed again, this time with city communications officials, Santana said she was told the city didn’t have resources for translation. 

One high-ranking city official suggested Santana and her office should create Spanish-language versions to distribute, she said. 

The reaction startled her. 

“I almost didn’t know how to respond,” Santana said. “That's when I started really realizing, ‘You know what? This is a huge issue for the city.’ Who would have thought that a city with more than 300,000 residents wouldn’t be ready to have their communications translated?” 

(A city spokesperson did respond to questions about what Santana was told.)

Santana’s concerns as a councilwoman were rooted in what she’d witnessed growing up in her community and later as a health outreach worker: that language and trust act as barriers to resources that can improve or save lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified pressure on a chronically underfunded public health system that already faced staggering disparities in access to medical care and health outcomes, especially for people with limited English proficiency. 

But the crisis also has offered an opportunity, which some local health departments have embraced, to forge relationships and connections that could outlast the virus. 

Cleveland, a city that declared racism a public health crisis almost a year ago, with officials vowing to tackle disparities and inequities, has seen some progress but it has been sluggish. 

Despite a windfall in pandemic aid, Cleveland still has not beefed up its own contract tracing operations by adding bilingual staff. Instead, it has relied on the state health department for virtual assistance with Spanish-speaking residents and a language translation line.