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Ohio businesses expected to receive $5 billion in help during pandemic

By The Center Square

COLUMBUS — As he continues to almost beg Ohioans to not attend public gatherings, to wear masks and cancel events, Gov. Mike DeWine also asked for $5 billion to help struggling Ohio businesses.

The money would be the third dividend from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, but by far the largest. If approved by the BWC board next week, the money returning to businesses would be nearly $8 billion this year.

“Issuing these dividends, we believe, is very important,” DeWine said. “We’ve been told by many these dividend dollars have been lifelines. This is about keeping our businesses open and keeping people employed in Ohio.”

The money does not come from the state budget but serves almost as a return of premiums to public and private Ohio employers who pay directly to the state for workers’ compensation insurance. The BWC invests those premiums to pay workers’ comp claims or, in this case, return money to businesses.

The new dividend payments, according to McCloud, will be above and beyond employers’ premiums.

“They assured me that this could be done. It’s prudent, and its fiscally conservative,” DeWine said. “We’re going to continue to look for ways to help businesses keep people employed. This is an opportunity to put money directly into the hands of business.”

The success of the premium management led to a workers’ compensation rate cut of 20 percent last year and 13 percent this year, along with the dividend returns this year, according to Stephanie McCloud, administrator of the Ohio BWC. Since July, she said, BWC has earned another $1 billion in investment income.

“Our net position and financial stability continue to exceed our expectations,” McCloud said. “Using this information, we are ready to support businesses to stay open. Our goal is to get the dividend in the hands of businesses by the end of the year.”

While checks will vary from business to business, DeWine said the average check for a restaurant could be around $13,000. Also, an average Ohio farm could see a check for $9,500.

“If you look at this potential to return billions of dollars to our food and agriculture businesses in the state, it will keep them competitive,” Adam Sharp with the Ohio Farm Bureau said.

The city of Columbus, one of the state’s largest employers, will receive the largest check of $64 million.

“The dividend announcement is truly going to be a game-changing event,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said. “For some of them, it’s going to be the difference between them opening and closing, but more importantly, if somebody gets laid off from a job.”