By Wendy Patton
In his Aug. 25 news conference Gov. Mike DeWine outlined some good work the state is initiating to expand COVID-19 testing in underserved communities — presumably including neighborhoods of Black and Latinx Ohioans and people with low incomes. He indicated he’s open to ideas about how to help all Ohioans — no matter where they live or what they look like. We have some ideas to share.
First, stop cutting essential public services. In May, DeWine announced $776 million in budget cuts due to low state revenue collections. Now, state lawmakers have a new, lower funding baseline for many important programs. Policy Matters Ohio found state policymakers have already reduced funding for budget year 2021 by more than $440 million. Stopping the cuts would be a great place to start.
Second, the governor could fund some recommendations he’s already received. Advocates for Ohio’s Future, a statewide coalition of over 500 organizations, asked the governor for $253 million of unused federal coronavirus-relief funds for housing, day care, food and utility assistance:
- $100 million for emergency rental assistance: Courts have reopened, and hundreds of thousands of laid-off Ohioans and their families face eviction.
- $38 million in utility assistance to double the amount of federal CARES Act dollars invested in utility assistance. Water shut-offs resumed in some communities last month.
- $45 million to allow food banks to purchase additional emergency food and household groceries, with the end of $600 a week federal unemployment assistance.
- $10 million so the National Guard can continue to assist with food distribution, congregate care and community testing as most elderly volunteers — the usual army of helpers — must shelter at home.
- An additional $60 million to assist child care providers into the Fall. (The controlling board approved $31 million, but far more is needed to keep the sector from collapse).
As the governor noted in his press conference, Black and Hispanic communities have suffered disproportionate harm from the pandemic. His administration established the Minority Health Strike Force to figure out how to alleviate ongoing harm. Their blueprint includes the following immediately-actionable suggestions:
- Help people find and enroll in affordable health insurance programs. The federal government cut off funding for such assistance. The governor could fill the void.
- Strengthening early education: Ohio was a leader in early childhood education in 2000 but not anymore, serving fewer children and investing less funding per child.
- Boost participation in higher education: With recent cuts to public colleges and universities and financial aid, lawmakers are on the wrong track.
- Support the Ohio Housing Trust Fund so it can create more affordable housing: Funding has eroded over time, while need has grown.
- Provide services to prevent eviction: Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans couldn’t pay rent last month and could face eviction, swelling the ranks of the homeless.
- Improve access to public transit: State support of public transit remains less than half of the recommended level of the Ohio Department of Transportation 2015 study.
The state has a rainy-day fund of $2.7 billion and over $900 million in unused federal coronavirus relief and other surplus federal funds. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is already moving some unused Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds to help struggling Ohioans. We need leadership from federal policymakers — who still haven’t been able to agree upon another aid package. But the governor has tools at his disposal to do more. He has no shortage of good suggestions.
Wendy Patton is the team leader for the fiscal project of the State Priorities Partnership, which is affiliated with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Prior to joining Policy Matters Ohio in 2009, Wendy served as an executive assistant for economic development for Governor Ted Strickland, as a deputy director of business development for the Ohio Department of Development, as a vice president for the Columbus Urban Growth Corporation and as a program coordinator for the Ohio Employee Ownership Center. She worked with AFSCME international as an economic policy analyst, serving 13 states in tax and budget policy and forecasting revenues for collective bargaining. She has written about public finance, regional development, workforce training, steel and automobile supply chain configuration. Wendy has a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.