CINCINNATI — People facing tough decisions about going back to work amid the coronavirus pandemic may find some respite in a bill making its way through the Ohio legislature.
House Bill 672, or the Worker Protection Act, would extend unemployment benefits to people in these four groups:
- Workers who are immunocompromised, over 65 or are living with someone who is over 65 or immunocompromised.
- Employees in a workplace that has failed to follow safety guidelines issued by the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health.
- People who can’t go back to work because of child care center closures.
- Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a diagnosis.
Rep. Bridgid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) is a co-sponsor of the bill. She said the protections it offers are needed to make sure Ohio can stay healthy. There’s still a lot about the virus that is unknown, and Kelly said the bill will give people the option to keep their unemployment benefits.
“You have a lot of working parents who still have uncertainty with child care,” Kelly said. “You have folks who might live with or care for an elderly parent, and those are really impossible choices to make when you have to decide between your health and well-being or the health and well-being of a loved one and your livelihood so that you can pay your bills.”
Under the law now, workers have to go back when their workplace reopens or lose their unemployment pay, no matter the circumstance.
For FedEx employee Amanda Redmond, it feels like a life-and-death decision. She has two children and an autoimmune health condition that causes seizures.
“It’s either I can go to work there and die, possibly die, or stay home safe and live,” Redmond said.
Kelly recognizes that the decision isn’t realistic for some people.
Three other states — North Caroline, Colorado and Texas — have similar laws to protect unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 crisis.
It’s unclear whether the bill will get bi-partisan support. Paul Zeltwanger, a Republican from Warren County, said he has considered the policy change but hasn’t seen the bill to examine it yet. He said he’ll have to consider the funding it will take to extend unemployment.