On June 26, members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation from the Miami Valley and Columbus chapters came together outside the Ohio Statehouse to protest the end of Ohio’s $300 pandemic unemployment subsidy. PSL members spoke against state officials’ refusal to help their most vulnerable citizens during the pandemic, and invited attendees to speak about how Ohio’s unemployment benefits have affected them and their families.
On the federal level, the emergency unemployment benefits were scheduled to end on September 6. However, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine decided to end the program early. DeWine has been an unreliable leader throughout the pandemic. At the beginning of the crisis he announced a clear and cogent lockdown strategy, but after a few weeks, ceded significant ground to reactionary pressure.
While stating outwardly that the health and safety of citizens is his highest priority, behind the scenes DeWine has consistently prioritized the needs of big businesses and capitalists. DeWine has also used federal relief funds to run a lottery-style vaccine incentive program called “Vax-a-Million” in which five vaccinated adults who are registered to vote are selected to receive $1 million, and five vaccinated minors are selected to win full-ride college scholarships.
Enriching a lucky few and leaving the rest to make it on their own is perfectly in line with the rest of Ohio’s public services, many of which have been privatized nearly out of existence, or are simply too dysfunctional to be relied upon. Dairdre S., a local mother and Black activist, told Liberation News that her unemployment benefits were hard to secure and were often paid late.
She said, “Everything that I had been doing [for work] before the pandemic was something that was now unavailable to me. … I ended up having to get help from a lawyer just to get my benefits approved last summer. Unemployment would just drop randomly … and every time something went wrong I had to rely on my community for help paying rent. … They want us to pick ourselves up from this pandemic ‘by our bootstraps.’ Unemployment is the boots and it is the straps.”
The event was also attended by members of the new coalition Columbus Housing For All, and discussions between attendees quickly made a connection between unemployment benefits and housing security, leading to a partnership between the coalition and Columbus PSL.
Columbus Housing For All offered PSL the opportunity to speak at their first event on June 30 outside the Greater Columbus Convention Center. This location was chosen because eviction court proceedings have been taking place there throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, after being moved to the Convention Center to allow evictions to be filed while maintaining social distancing requirements at the city’s courthouse. The event featured testimony from local residents who are currently houseless or who have experienced houselessness, many of whom directly connected their struggle for fair housing to low wages and unreliable unemployment benefits.
Organizers with Columbus Housing For All highlighted the importance of rapid action against the housing crisis. Emily G., an event organizer and an advocate for houseless people in Columbus, said, “The population of unsheltered houseless people in Franklin County has increased by 235% since 2007. 1,907 people here will sleep unsheltered on any given night. Eviction filings have increased by 150% since last year.” Then the coalition announced the following demands for the city of Columbus:
1. Implement an emergency rent stabilization ordinance.
2. Stop evictions by mandating an eviction diversion program.
3. Increase supply of affordable housing by requiring that new housing developments devote 50% of units to residents who make less than $30,000 per year.
4. Devote 30% of annual city budget directly to people experiencing houselessness.
5. Establish an Affordable Housing Trust Board, of which at least half of the members must be people who have directly experienced houselessness.
PSL members in Columbus look forward to continuing collaboration with Columbus Housing For All. A PSL organizer said to the assembled crowd, “The capitalists are not going to start providing a solution to the housing crisis unless we, the people, make them do it. Landlords and the state that uphold their private property rights won’t give us housing reform. We have to organize today and into the future to apply the pressure that will make them cave to our demands.”