COLUMBUS, Ohio—Many Ohioans struggling financially have questions, and The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) might have the answers.
With Ohio’s unemployment rate hitting a five-year high as the nation continues to deal with the health and financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, numerous consumers statewide have financial questions as many try to manage the biggest economic challenge they’ve ever faced.
More than 1.1 million Ohioans have filed for unemployment benefits since March, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Nationwide, some 33.5 million Americans are out of work, with 14.7% of the population unemployed, the highest since the Great Depression, economists said today.
That’s left many people seeking answers to questions such as how to pay credit card bills, how to file for unemployment, and how to access federal stimulus checks if they receive social security benefits and aren’t required to file taxes, said Amanda Woods, an Ohio State University Extension healthy finances program specialist. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of CFAES.
To help answer some of those questions, OSU Extension is offering free financial education to assist families with improving both their present and future economic well-being, Woods said. Consumers can submit questions anonymously to the Ask a Financial Expert site at go.osu.edu/financialadvicesurvey and get responses emailed to them within five days, she said.
“OSU Extension family and consumer sciences healthy finances professionals are sensitive to the economic challenges families and their communities are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Woods said. “For some, the loss of jobs has greatly affected families and their communities.
“For others, it is declining health along with inadequate health insurance coverage that puts their economic well-being and quality of life at risk.”
A team of FCS educators statewide manage the site, researching and answering questions on topics including budgeting, trouble paying bills, unemployment, debt and debt collections, bankruptcy, mortgages, saving money, and protection from consumer fraud.
Since the program’s inception on March 30, more than 37 consumers have reached out with questions. Ohio consumers have submitted questions in top categories such as how to pay bills or deal with mounting debt; how to navigate Ohio’s unemployment system; how to get help with paying mortgages; and what resources are available to help struggling small businesses, said Courtney Woelfl, an FCS educator in Cuyahoga County.
One consumer submitted the following question: “I have a large credit card debt I know I will never repay. Should I contact the credit card companies directly or contact a debt relief company? If so, which one? There are so many debt relief companies advertising now.”
Here’s another submitted question: “Can you get financial help (unemployment) if your salary is reduced or hours are cut without pay due to companies cutting back because of the economic shutdown, but you’re not technically laid off?”
People statewide are worried right now, and they are trying to figure things out that many have never experienced before, Woods said.
“These are uncertain times for everyone right now,” she said. “The pandemic has turned into the great equalizer, resulting in people who’ve never had financial issues, but who now find themselves impacted.
“People are wondering how to take stock of where they are, and how to move forward.”
That’s why the site was created, Woods said. It’s staffed by FCS healthy finances educators whose work focuses on financial education across the lifespan: financial education and literacy for youth, financial education for adults, fraud protection, homebuyer education, housing education, and financial literacy.
“We’re offering this program as part of Ohio State’s land-grant mission to bring the resources of the university into the community to effect change and impact Ohioans,” she said. “With OSU Extension having offices in counties throughout Ohio and the relationships that we’ve established statewide, we are uniquely positioned to facilitate this program.”
“We want people to know that they’re not alone. We’re all dealing with these issues, and we’re here to offer support. This is an unpreceded event, and we’ve adapted to continue to serve the public. We don’t want people to let the stress take over and make them feel they are alone.”