by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, December 2014) The dust had barely settled after the November election in the State of Ohio when Northern Ohioans for Budget Legislation Equality (NOBLE) gathered to start organizing to have an impact on the next biennial State of Ohio Budget.
At a Saturday, November 15th meeting NOBLE members gathered to determine what they would like to see in the next State of Ohio Budget. Priorities included Health & Mental Health Care; Elderly and Disability Services; Childcare & Kinship care; Primary, Secondary and Higher Education; Cash and Food Assistance; Housing and Public Transportation.
Those in attendance broke into groups for planning sessions and reunited in the early afternoon to report back. As the groups began to report back, NOBLE member Gloria Aron urged all to believe in their power to make change in the two-year state budget to be considered this coming legislative session. She reminded them of their role in the successful effort to expand Medicaid coverage to people with incomes up to 138% of the poverty level.
Aron reported back for a group working on tax policy. Aron explained that someone has to pay for all the services the state provides. The group called for a tax system where everyone pays their fair share. They called for a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit – where like the federal EITC, individuals would receive back the full amount of the Tax Credit – even if it was more than they paid in. The group called for a tax on the oil and gas resources being extracted from Ohio shale and asked that the money be used to pay for state programs, not to reduce other taxes. Other items they mentioned included reviewing state tax loopholes, reestablishing the estate tax, preserving and restoring the income tax and increasing its progressive nature, and securing a homestead exemption for seniors for the first $50,000 of their property’s value.
NOBLE member Katie Boland presented budget goals for health care and mental health care. The group seeks to assure the reauthorization of Medicaid expansion at 138% of poverty and to maintain traditional Medicaid as it is. The group also called for the next two year state budget to restore the full $100 million for Alcohol, Other Drugs and Mental Health Services and fully fund recovery services including employment, peer services, crisis services, housing, detox medication, assisted treatment and health promotion.
The group asked for some policy changes on the state level as well, including the development of a system of notification requirements of local poison deaths to help local boards such as the Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board to know what drugs are being abused. Another issue the group hopes to address in the new state budget is funding of better prenatal care to address Ohio’s high infant mortality rate – one of the worst in the nation.
The presentation on funding services for the elderly and disabled called for investment in home and community based services, no more cuts to local offices of aging or senior centers, and maintaining or increasing funds in the Alzheimer’s respite line item. The group called for the state of Ohio to develop certification for home health aides, which includes ethics training.
A couple of high school students offered to make the presentation for the education group. They suggested that students from all schools come together and share what is working and what is not working in their schools. They said programs that are working should be duplicated everywhere. They said the student council could act as a statewide advocacy voice for education. Other concerns they addressed included accountability for charter schools, and making college more accessible. NOBLE members discussed the obscene amount of dollars now being spent on testing. The consensus was there were too many standardized tests and the money now being diverted to testing companies should go to the schools.
The NOBLE budget platform also included restoration of the cuts made to the Local Government Fund, increasing funds to deal with foreclosure assistance, and maintaining the Housing Trust Fund at current levels. The group called for an increase in funds for public transit, noting that 9% of the state’s population does not drive, yet only 1% of the funding goes to public transit.
NOBLE member Larry Bresler made the presentation for the group working on a platform for Kinship Care, Child Care and Cash Assistance. Bresler noted that children placed in Kinship Care with relatives in general fared better than children in the foster care system. Bresler said currently the state provides $259 a month for a child placed in kinship care and an additional $90 a month for each additional child up to four children. There is no additional money provided if there are more than four children served. Foster parents receive $600 per child. Bresler said the committee proposed closing this gap to help families taking care of the children of relatives. The NOBLE committee’s proposal also calls for ending the ceiling on the number of children subsidized with kinship care funds and to disregard adult income when calculating cost of living increases in the foster care system. The group also supported increasing the age to 21 for aging out of foster care (the current age is 18).
The committee’s recommendations on Child Care included a call for returning eligibility for childcare assistance to families with income up to 185% of the federal poverty level.
The committee asked that the State of Ohio seek a federal waiver on work requirements for all counties so more people could receive cash assistance. They asked that cash assistance be provided to families for 5 years rather than the current 3 years. Requested cash assistance levels for families be increased and that regular cost of living increases be placed in the budget.
They asked funds to assist victims of domestic violence be restored. Requested that the state step up the spending of funds already allocated to the Ohio Work Incentive program to work with employers to help people obtain good paying jobs.
The committee also sought to resolve a problem created by the high client to worker ratio in local Ohio Offices of Job and Family Services by providing funding for more staffing. Bresler says currently in Cuyahoga County the ratio of clients to workers is 600 to 1. He said this workload need to be lower, because now clients are being sanctioned because of failure to meet with their caseworkers. Part of the reason for missing meetings is the inflexibility of scheduling due to high caseloads.