Thousands of Ohioans are being laid off as businesses have temporarily shut their doors due to efforts to prevent the spread COVID 19.
Matt Roberts stood in the parking lot of one of his indoor rock-climbing businesses, Vertical Adventures, as some of the workers he’s laid off filed into the building to get help filing for unemployment. Roberts said these have been the hardest days of his professional life because he knew if he continued to pay his employees without being able to get any business coming in the door, things would be even worse.
“We made the decision to lay off 95% of our staff to make sure there’d be this business in two months, however long, and I think that’s the big problem, nobody knows how long this is going to be," Roberts said.
Roberts and his business partner, Carrie Roccos, are continuing to pay health insurance premiums for their laid off employees. Roccos choked up when she talked about the reaction of her laid off employees.
“A lot of like, thanks, and it was kinda hard to take thanks. You know this is a really close-knit business. We’ve been in this business for 26 years and a lot of these people we’ve been with for a long time and we are very tight knit so I think the hardest thing for a lot of people was walking out the door. The folks that came over to meet with us in person, we kinda lingered. No one wanted to walk out the door," Roccos explained.
Matt Cole was one of those employees.
“It’s tough. They have been really great about helping us get us set up with unemployment. And hopefully with that and some side jobs here and there, we’ll be able to scrape by. And my girlfriend has not been laid off but we know with her company we know it’s not if but when. So we are starting to feel the burn a little bit and it’s starting to feel like our first years out of college when we are eating leftover food from old jobs that they threw away," Cole said.
What’s happening to Cole, Roccos and Roberts is happening all over the state as many businesses have been forced, by government order, to shut down to avoid spread of the coronavirus. Hair salons, barbershops, spas, tattoo parlors and eat-in dining establishments have been closed in recent days. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kimberly Hall said Gov. Mike DeWine’s recent order has allowed employees who wouldn’t ordinarily qualify for unemployment to get it. And she said her agency has taken steps to reduce bureaucratic red tape.
“And also the waiting period has been eliminated. The unemployment system, as it is currently constructed has a waiting period. Due to the declaration of emergency, we were able to adjust that waiting period, waive it, so individuals can begin receiving benefits immediately," Hall said.
Hall said the agency is also immediately redirecting workers to other jobs if they prefer. She said businesses like grocery stores and mail order warehouses need even more workers right now. It’s important to remember not all businesses have shut down during this pandemic. But Hall said if workers feel they are in a dangerous situation because their employer is staying open, she urges them to contact the agency and they will look into those concerns.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said employers need to make sure they are sending sick workers home.
“When we get through this, and we will, and the economy will rebound, you are going to need those skilled employees. Take care of them now. Help them out," Husted said.
Husted said the state will pay for things like worker training. And that, he said, could help businesses when the economy rebounds.