COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Treasury Department on Monday said Ohio will receive nearly $5.4 billion in aid as part of Democratic President Joe Biden’s larger $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, with another nearly $6.6 billion going directly to counties, cities and townships.
Thirty-four Ohio cities, three large townships and all 88 counties will receive the payments, part of the $350 billion program created under the American Rescue Plan to help state and local governments and boost the U.S. national economy that’s been hard hit by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
State and local governments can use the money for relief from the public health crisis. The money also can be used to offset harm to workers, small businesses and affected industries, to invest in water, sewer and broadband systems and to replace lost public sector revenue, according to guidance the Treasury Department released along with the figures. Essential workers also can qualify for premium pay under the program.
What officials can’t do with the money is use it to cut taxes, pay down debt or bolster the state rainy day fund.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, called Treasury’s directives on how the money should be used akin to “fantasy fiction.”
Because Ohio’s unemployment rate is not significantly higher than its pre-pandemic level, the state is eligible to receive just half of its $5.4 billion allotment immediately, with the rest being provided one year later. Those states where unemployment rose significantly will get their full allotment right away.
Cleveland will receive $511 million under the program, with its home county, Cuyahoga, receiving another $240 million. Columbus will receive $187 million, while Franklin County, where it sits, will receive about $256 million. The figures for Cincinnati and Hamilton County are $280 million and $159 million, respectively.
Local governments can expect to receive funds in two batches, half coming this month and the rest a year from now.
Ohio Townships Association Executive Director Heidi Fought said only three of Ohio’s 1,308 townships received the recovery money, with the rest facing a disadvantage if they don’t receive similar direct funding. If that happens, they will urge government entities that did receive the funding to transfer some to cover services and programs for their roughly 4 million residents, she said.
Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has recommended to the state Legislature that Ohio use a portion of its COVID relief dollars to pay off the unemployment compensation insurance loan the state owes to the federal government.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce has said paying the loan balance and shoring up the state’s unemployment trust fund would prevent an estimated tax increase on employers next year of more than $100 million and save businesses nearly $660 million over three years.
Under Treasury guidelines, states can use the federal money to replenish their unemployment insurance trust funds up to pre-pandemic levels.
News of the federal allotment came as the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services announced plans to resume weekly work-search requirements for those receiving unemployment benefits starting the week of May 23.
The federal government authorized states to waive the requirement from the middle of last March, at the height of the pandemic, through Dec. 1. On Dec. 6, Ohio resumed the requirement for new claims, but continued to waive it for existing ones.
DeWine said resuming the requirement “only makes sense” now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available, allowing people to safely return to work.