House Task Force Hearing Sad Stories And Disputed Info About COVID-19 Crisis
Republican leadership in the Ohio House set up a bipartisan task force this month that hopes to work with Gov. Mike DeWine on ways to jump start the economy after the coronavirus shutdowns. Around 500 business owners have asked to speak to the panel, which has already heard some sad stories and some outrageous ideas.
At least 50 businesses have testified before the Ohio 2020 Economic Recovery Task Force, which is meeting via videoconference. Many have talked of potential devastation, such as Dale Hipsley, who runs two cafes with 60 employees in Wyoming and Mason near Cincinnati.
"Our house is on fire, we're about to lose everything and the only thing that will extinguish the flames is revenue. Let's get to the work of reopening the economy now," Hipsley told the panel on April 15.
The day before, John Barker from the the Ohio Restaurant Association said half the state’s eateries have closed and 3% are already saying they won’t reopen. And for those that do, a 40% drop in revenue is expected.
Some have shared stories of what they feel is unfair treatment.
And others have put forward ideas for longer-term help: for instance, tax credits for purchases of masks and gloves for employees and property tax breaks for closed businesses.
Dante Sabatucci, who owns a sports academy in North Canton, proposed this to the panel on April 21: “An idea would be to ask businesses who have, I hate to use the word ‘thrived’ during this time to create a fund that they can donate to help a lot of smaller businesses to get back on our feet.”
And some businesses have revealed their doubts about information.
Tony George has around a dozen restaurants in Cleveland, but he had something to say about the data the state has been sharing about coronavirus.
“Look at all the modeling. They continually reset the numbers. The modeling hasn’t been right. I don’t trust the numbers," George told the task force on April 21.
Epidemiologists and public health and infectious disease experts say that models aren’t crystal balls but are forecasts, that trends are more important than numbers, and that there are lots of unknowns about this virus.
And there were what many would consider to be conspiracy theories from Bill Bader, owner of a 30,000 seat speedway in Norwalk.
Bader said he believes the pandemic is real, but questioned the COVID-19 death toll. He said he’ll use appropriate safety when he reopens the speedway – which he said he’ll do without waiting for permission from Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who ordered the shutdown.
“I would go so far as to say that it was motivated more about, it was more politically motivated than erring on the side of the health and safety and well-being of the citizens of this great country of ours," Bader said on April 20.
White House advisors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx have both pushed back on those positions as false.
House Majority Whip Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) is on the panel, and said there have been a wide variety of views.
“I don't think it would be fair to not bring up the fact that we've had some guests on that have also thrown a lot of shade of President Trump. They weren't they weren't ancillary Trump fans. So I think it's fair to bring up both sides of that," Edwards said in an interview with task force chair Paul Zeltwanger (R-Mason) on "The State of Ohio".
Task force vice-chair Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) said he’s trying to keep the group’s goal in mind as he listens to those testifying.
“When I hear those theories and outlandish statements, I just continue to stay focused on what it is that the Speaker put this task force together and what it is that myself and my colleagues are trying to accomplish with this task force," Upchurch said.
On April 16, Upchurch had said he was frustrated that none of the business owners who’d testified were minorities and few are women. But he now said he’s been assured by Republican House leadership that more diversity will be represented.
And with a million people filing for unemployment, Upchurch said he wants employees’ concerns to be heard too.
Upchurch says he falls on the side of opening business more slowly, to ensure there won’t be an infection spike that could bring a longer shutdown later. But at least one other panel member disagrees.
Committee member Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) recently attended a Statehouse protest calling on DeWine to reopen all businesses in Ohio, and has written a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine demanding that he "rescind all orders that you and Director Acton have put on the Ohio economy".
Both Edwards and Zeltwanger said in an interview on "The State of Ohio" that they would be comfortable getting haircuts on May 1.