COLUMBUS— As many Ohioans will be called back to work in May, many will be faced with impossible decisions related to work, health and family as this ongoing pandemic continues: how to return to work when you have children at home and no one to care for them with daycares and schools closed; how to keep those high-risk individuals who will remain quarantined safe when workers return home; and what protections exist for workers in and out of the workplace or who do fall ill with COVID-19.
“This has already been a very stressful time for Ohio’s working families,” said Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron). “For those fortunate enough to still have a job at this point, the challenge now shifts from juggling homeschooling and telework to how the adults in the home return to work when there is no one to care for the children and what potential risks are involved with going back to work and possibly bringing COVID-19 back home to our loved ones. Even without COVID-19, finding reliable and affordable childcare in this country is difficult. The situation is made even more impossible by the widespread closures throughout the state of schools and childcare facilities.
House Democrats believe that families come first and it is our responsibility as lawmakers to help working families transition back into the workplace safely. We have serious reservations surrounding this restart and there is still much work that needs to be done to prepare; we are eager to return to the statehouse and address these most pressing issues.”
House Democrats renew their call to return to the statehouse to tackle important COVID-related issues that would help working families such as:
1.Expand paid family and sick leave policies for more workers.
- HB 91 (Boggs, Boyd) – Establishes the Family and Medical Leave insurance program to provide 12 weeks of leave to workers.
- HB 593 (Boyd, Boggs) - Requires paid leave for an employee who is unable to work due to quarantine or mandatory isolation.
2. Address childcare concerns of working parents
- Employers should be flexible with employees who have childcare needs
- Plan for opening daycare
- Ensure childcare is available and affordable, and that payments to providers are timely.
- Use great caution before returning students to school buildings to avoid public health and economic consequences.
3.Expand Broadband Access to Help Ohioans Work and Learn from Home
o HB 13 (O’Brien, Cafragna) – Establishes a residential broad expansion program to increase access to internet services throughout the state
4. Protect workers in the workplace
o Appeal process for employees who are at high-risk for illness, ability to keep them at home if they can stay home without losing their jobs or access to unemployment compensation
- Temporarily expand telework opportunities for high-risk staff or those whose job duties that can be done remotely to reduce in-person staff size as much as possible
5. Extend Workers Compensation Coverage to Frontline Workers
o HB 571 (Boggs) – Makes COVID-19 contracted by a peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical worker an occupational disease under the Workers' Compensation Law during declared COVID emergency.
o HB 573 (Sobecki, Boggs) – Makes COVID-19 an occupational disease covered under the Workers' Compensation Law for individuals required to work outside the home during the declared emergency.
o HB 605 (Kelly, Patton) – Makes COVID-19 contracted by an employee of a retail food establishment or food processing establishment an occupational disease under the Workers' Compensation Law
6.Support Small Businesses
- Create a “main street” grant program to provide small-dollar grants to small businesses, such as bars and restaurants to help them pay utility, rent, insurance, and payroll costs
- Enhance existing Development Services Agency loan programs, such as the minority business bonding and direct loan programs, and the capital access program, to help small and minority-owned businesses acquire resources necessary to grow.
7.Expand innovation within the healthcare industry to eliminate surprise billing, expand telehealth and protect those with pre-exiting conditions
- HB 580 (Liston, Patton) – In public health emergency, telehealth services can replace all covered in-person services should the practitioner deem it necessary for patient safety at the same re-imbursement rate.
- HB 579 (Russo) – requires health plan issuers cover COVID-19 test and treatment; eliminates surprise billing during an emergency
- HB 390 (Crossman, Clites) – protect healthcare coverage of those with pre-existing conditions
8. Ensure Residents Can Stay in Their Homes, and Keep All Utilities Connected
o HB 562 (Leland, Crossman) – Prohibits foreclosure activity and the eviction of residential and commercial tenants during the state of emergency declared regarding COVID-19.
o HB 564 (Leland) – Prevents disconnection of all utilities, including gas, electric, and sewer services, during the emergency as a result of inability to pay
o HB 576 (Rogers, Crossman) – Temporarily abate the charging of interest and penalties against tax-delinquent homesteads and suspend tax foreclosure proceedings and tax certificate sales regarding such homesteads
9.Relieve Ohioans from Debt
- HB 603 (Ingram, Lightbody) – waives interest rates and suspends payments on state student loan programs for up to sixty days, and requires that a study be conducted to assist institutions of higher education and students during the emergency.
- HB 596 (West) – Halts debt collection.
- HB 597 (Ingram, Miranda) – Halts debt collection/freezes interest against state universities.
Additionally, House Democrats are advocating for more funding for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Unemployment Compensation Administration Fund to ensure they have what they need to process the massive influx of new claims. They also advocate for a budget corrections bill that will address the immediate budget shortfall as FY20 comes to an end, but also a long-term fiscal plan for FY21 and beyond to protect and prioritize programs that help vulnerable populations who have been disproportionately impacted by this crisis.