Ohioans use federal stimulus money to buy food, pay rent and utilities

Nearly 59 percent of Ohioans who received federal stimulus payments used the money or plan to use it to buy food, according to new U.S. Census data.

Food purchases, including groceries, eating out and take-out food, were the top use of the $1,200 stimulus checks about 7.5 million Ohioans received or expect to receive as part of the federal CARES Act approved by Congress in March, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

Another round of stimulus checks is included in a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives but the U.S. Senate has not considered that bill.

Nationwide the Census Bureau’s survey collected the week of June 11-16 found that more than 85 percent of respondents had received a stimulus check or expected someone in their household to get a check, according to a bureau news release.

Respondents were able to give more than one answer on how they spent the stimulus checks. After food, the most common use in Ohio — 47 percent — was for household supplies or personal care products, followed closely by utilities and telecommunications, at 44 percent.

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Twenty-two percent said they used the money for mortgage payments, the same percentage using the money for rent.

Longtime Dayton resident Kriss Gang said he and his wife had rented out their South Park home and retired to Mexico when they got the check and so haven’t actually spent much of the money yet.

“So, because we have been making money off our rental and expenses here are unbelievably cheap, we have not used much of the stimulus money to date,” Gang said. ” We plan to donate some of it to Democratic candidates in the U.S., and gave some to a local foodbank here.”

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“I do believe it has helped the U.S. economy and many of my friends have commented on how happy they were to have (it),” Gang added. “It seems like quite a few paid off debts.”

Twenty-nine percent of Ohioans used the money to pay down credit cards, student loans and other debt, according to the Census data.

President Donald Trump has said he supports another round of direct payments to Americans, which many Democratic and some Republican lawmakers have called for to help out as the economy slowly recovers from the COVID-19 shutdown.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said stimulus checks provided critical support for Ohio families going through a one-in-a-lifetime pandemic and a major economic downturn, which led to widespread layoffs.

“For many of these Ohioans, these stimulus checks provided a lifeline to make the rent or pay for groceries or cover health care costs,” he said. “But we know a one-time lifeline isn’t enough.”

Brown said the fastest and easiest way to help Ohio workers and families is to put money directly into their pockets and he has called for larger checks that more people would qualify for.

Brown also supports sending Ohioans checks every quarter until the economy stabilizes.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also supported the CARES Act and is glad the funds helped Ohioans pay their rent, buy groceries and cover other daily expenses so they can stay afloat, said Emmalee Kalmbach, Portman’s press secretary. The CARES Act also included enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 a week that expire at the end of this month, and allows more types of workers, such as independent contractors, to get benefits they previously were ineligible to receive.

Portman is now working to incorporate a $450 weekly return-to-work bonus into any future legislative response to the pandemic, she said.

“We’re still in negotiations for the next phase of COVID response legislation,” she said. “If there is a decision to extend federal unemployment benefits then it should be paired with a return to work bonus so that there isn’t a disincentive to go back to work safely.”

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Chris Kershner, executive vice president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the business community has been hit hard by the economic shutdown caused by the battle against COVID-19 and needs the support from people who have money to spend.

“Incentivizing consumer purchases and spending is helpful in reinvigorating the economy and business recovery,” Kershner said. “Right now we are focused on helping businesses get back on their feet and all resources are helpful. However, the best resource is consumer spending.”

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