MIDDLETOWN—State Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown) today spoke with the Butler County commissioners and urged them to reopen Ohio’s economy by naming all businesses in the county essential.


“Approximately 95% or more of the emails from constituents to my office say that we need to reopen Ohio now,” said Keller. “The economy of Butler County is made up of an enormous amount of small businesses that cannot take much more of this without a total and complete collapse.”


Keller cited a 2014 study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology that states job loss leads to a 73% higher statistical risk of death, which is the equivalent of adding 10 years to a person’s age.


“I sympathize with every COVID death that has transpired in our county, and to the family members of those 7 people, I want to publically extend my condolences,” said Keller. “However, there are now a multitude of residents who are now at a higher mortality risk due to their unemployment.”


On Friday, Preble County commissioners called all county businesses “essential” and encouraged them to open safely by following CDC guidelines.


“Work with the health department to create plans to keep your employees and customers safe so that you can reopen,” added Keller.


 


Below is the speech Rep. Keller presented to the Butler County Commissioners:


Commissioner Rogers, Carpenter, and Dixon,


First, let me say thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. I am glad to see that the commission is open to hearing the voice of the people of Butler County. And I am glad to see the wonderful work that you all are doing for our county as our community has never been stronger as it has been through this trying time due to the COVID-19 crisis.


I come before you today on behalf of my constituents. As I am their Representative, my job is to speak and advocate for them in any way I can. To that end, I must tell you, our residents are suffering. They are suffering due to the government-induced poverty that has come about from Governor DeWine’s orders that only “essential businesses” are allowed to be open. While potentially well-meaning in the face of this pandemic, the residents of Butler County are overwhelmingly suffering and want Ohio, and more specifically Butler County, to reopen now.


Approximately 95% or more of the emails from constituents to my office say that we need to reopen Ohio now. Not tomorrow, not two weeks from now, but now. The economy of Butler County, made of an enormous amount of small businesses, cannot take much more of this without total collapse. I cannot begin to tell you all the stories that have been relayed to me from business owners themselves that detail the money lost, the bills piling up that can’t be paid, the new debt acquired, and how if the economy is not allowed to re-open, the business will have to close its doors for good. This not only is devastating to the business owner themselves, but to the multiple people they employ who rely on them not only for money, but for health benefits as well.


While some may say that this conversation is me putting money over people’s health, let me clarify that this indeed is a conversation to help save the lives of Butler County residents. I sympathize with every COVID death that has transpired in our county, and to the family members of those 7 people, I want to publically extend my condolences. I pray for my community for those 328 people with confirmed cases.


However, there are now a multitude of residents who are now at a higher mortality risk due to their unemployment. According to a 2004 study published by the National Institutes of Health, “Results: Unemployment was associated with an increased risk of suicide and death from undetermined causes. Low education, personality characteristics, use of sleeping pills or tranquilizers, and serious or long-lasting illness tended to strengthen the association between unemployment and early mortality.” In a 2014 study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology states that job loss leads to a 73% higher statistical risk of death—the equivalent of adding 10 years onto a person’s age. Think of that for a moment…Truly, lower to middle socio-economic people are the ones, while not the totality, mainly effected by this shutdown as their jobs are not ones that they could do from home, nor are their jobs deemed “essential” by the establishment in Columbus. Thus, they are stuck.


And I’m not just talking by a dozen or so business owners or employees. Approximately one million Ohioans have filed for unemployment benefits, and approximately nine to ten thousand of those are here in Butler County. And those figures may not even include those who are considered self-employed or are 1099 contractors, as they only recently have been eligible to receive any benefits at all.


This leads me to my next point. While the government assistance has been well-needed, my constituents want to get back to work because working is the faster way to getting paid. Government has been disastrously inefficient when we needed it most. The majority of phone calls made to my office are because constituents cannot get through to anyone at the unemployment office. The phone lines are down. People aren’t even being given the opportunity to wait on hold but are being told that the call volume is high, so call back later. They’re going through the prompts with the promise of getting through to a live person and then hung up on. There has been numerous cases where people have been told their name doesn’t match their social security number, even though they’ve applied with the unemployment system in the past. People have been approved for benefits and received their confirmation numbers only to wait a minimum of three weeks to receive funds. In the meantime, their bills are still piling up, savings are diminished, new debt has to be acquired, and they are close if not already being evicted from their residences. This then leads right back to being at a higher risk for adverse health outcomes and a higher mortality risk.


Thus, it is truly for the health of the majority of residents that we reopen Butler County. While Ohio as a whole has had 19,335 cases of COVID, Butler County has only had 328 (12th out of 88 counties). The majority of cases in Ohio are in Franklin (Columbus) and Cuyahoga (Cleveland) counties. These are big cities where social distancing is much more difficult if not impossible. Butler County is no Columbus or Cleveland. We have the ample space and opportunity to do social distancing while at the same time allowing our economy to reopen.


One of the main reasons that these orders have been so disruptive is because there is seemingly no end in sight. These orders have been extended twice now by the Governor, with the caveat that these deadlines are all “flexible”. This makes strategic business planning nearly impossible, thus again, leading to the destruction of small businesses, people livelihoods, and sometimes their lives.


The reason I am bringing this to the attention of you, the Commissioners, is that you have both the authority and the responsibility to do this. One of the reasons this is so disconcerting to our community is that this was government-induced poverty and it has been unilaterally decided by executive orders. There has been very little input by the General Assembly on these orders at all, thus making their decisions questionable at best and unconstitutional at worst. Commissioner Robinson of Preble County quite rightly pointed out in the news on Friday: “They (Governor DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton) really don’t have a legal standpoint to enforce these orders. The General Assembly creates the laws and the health department enforces them.” This week we hope to see the General Assembly assemble together again and create a check and balance to this flurry of executive orders.


I believe that we need to take a page out of Commissioner Robinson’s and Preble County’s book. On Friday, their commission declared all businesses essential, thus enabling more than just big box stores to be open to the public with the help of the county health department. Also, the sheriff in Preble County has also stated that he will not be participating in hurting small businesses by evictions.


We as Butler County need to see this for what it is—harmful regulations that are doing more harm than good. Thus, we need to see the responsibility before us for what it is—neighbors helping neighbors. Preble County Commissioners were not saying that there shouldn’t be social distancing or other health hygiene steps taken, but instead of allowing these unchecked orders to harm their economy, they’re saying we will help you. Work with the health department to create plans to keep your employees and customers safe so that you can reopen.


In conclusion, I ask that this body seriously consider this strategy where we help our neighbors. The strategy that uses the investigative arm of the Butler County General Health District as a help to small businesses, not to harm through fines. The strategy that brings back local control by not allowing these unilateral orders to continue to cause suffering to our community. Action is needed to reopen our economy now and I believe this board has the true legal, Constitutional authority to do so. Thank you again for the opportunity to speak and plead the case of the residents of Butler County.


 

 
 
 
  
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