Northeast Ohioans for Budget Legislation Equality prepares to lobby for its State of Ohio budget priorities

by Chuck Hoven

     (Plain Press, December 2022) The State of Ohio must complete its next two-year budget by June 30th of 2023. The budget will govern State of Ohio spending from July 1, 2023 to June 30, 2025.

     Hoping to influence State of Ohio lawmakers in the decision-making process leading up to the formation of a budget for fiscal years 2024-2025, Northeast Ohioans for Budget Legislation Equality (NOBLE) held their 2022 Platform meeting on November 12th at Ohio City Incorporated Office on Lorain Avenue.

     Co-chairs Diana King and Diane Howard asked each of the twenty people, in attendance at the meeting or tuning in online, to introduce themselves as they prepared to set priorities in several categories related to the budget of the State of Ohio.

History

     Before those in attendance broke into groups to come up with NOBLE’s list of priorities, Gail Long shared some of the history of NOBLE, Zach Schiller gave an overview of the State of Ohio budget, Larry Bresler gave an overview of the State of Ohio budget process, and Brittney Madison reviewed the NOBLE report card on the State of Ohio’s current two-year budget for fiscal years 2022-2023.

     Gail Long, a member of NOBLE since its inception, said the group began under the name Advocates for Budget Legislation Equality (ABLE) in 2003 in response to word on the street that then Ohio Governor Robert Taft would be proposing a budget that would decimate funding for health and human services. Long, the former Executive Director of Merrick House, said three organizations were initially involved in providing organizers to help create ABLE—May Dugan Center, Merrick House, and Organize Ohio. Other organizations from throughout the City of Cleveland soon joined the effort. The idea she said was that people who benefited from State of Ohio funded services could get involved in advocating for funding for those services.

     Organizing to influence the budget process resulted in 29 buses and 1,500 people coming from Cleveland to lobby the state legislature and 5,000 people statewide joining in the total effort. Long said it was an exciting event as people told their stories directly to Ohio legislators of the importance of State of Ohio funded programs to themselves and their family members.

     Long says it was important for members of the Ohio House and Ohio Senate to hear directly from citizens, taxpayers, and recipients of services and because of their testimony the cuts to health and human service programs were not made.

     Long says the number of organizers working for NOBLE has shrunk and of the three organizations that helped to start the group, only Organize Ohio is still involved. Today NOBLE has two full time organizers and some interns from Case Western Reserve University. “Mostly it is people who receive services who make this work and get the message out,” said Long.

     Long noted NOBLE has had some wins over the years. “We wouldn’t have had any wins if not for the testimony of those who receive services,” she said.

State of Ohio Revenue and Expenditures

     Zach Schiller of Policy Matters Ohio gave an overview of what the State of Ohio spends money on and where the money comes from.

     Schiller said that when you include Federal dollars, Medicaid receives the most funding and Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) education is second. If you count only State of Ohio tax dollars, K-12 education is the largest allocation with Medicaid coming in second. Schiller showed the group a pie chart which showed the group the relative amount of funding received by other Ohio funded programs like Human Services, Higher Education, Prisons, and the Department of Youth Services.

     Schiller said the State of Ohio’s largest source of income is the Sales Tax, with the State Income Tax being the second highest source of income. The third highest source of income for the State of Ohio is the Commercial Activities Tax.

     When tracking State spending over time since 2007, Schiller says while the dollar amounts allocated to Human Services have increased, they have barely gone up when accounting for inflation.

     Schiller said the State of Ohio’s financial condition is the best in many years. He said the rainy-day fund is full, income taxes are better than anticipated. He noted that the Federal Government stabilized the State’s economy through the CARES Act, stimulus checks, and increases in Medicaid and unemployment insurance so the State did not experience the decline in revenue it expected. Thus, Schiller said, “We are in position now to improve things, not just keep what we have.”

Legislative Process

     Organize Ohio Executive Director Larry Bresler said NOBLE will have people directly impacted by the State of Ohio budget testifying before the State legislature thru June of next year. “We provide the human stories,” he said.

     Bresler explained that Governor Mike DeWine will introduce his proposed budget on February 2nd. Using a diagram on the State Budget process, Bresler explained the steps in the budget process.

     The Ohio House upon receiving the Governor’s budget will then refer it to the House Finance Committee. In turn the Finance Committee will refer the bill to various subcommittees for review and specific proposals. Sometime in April the bill comes back to the Finance Committee which then makes amendments to the bill and submits it to the entire Ohio House. There additional amendments will be made before the Ohio House votes to pass the bill.

     The budget bill then goes to the Ohio Senate sometime in late April. The Senate refers the bill to the Senate Finance Committee. The Finance Committee refers the bill to various subcommittees for review. In mid-May the Senate Finance Committee votes and sends bill to the entire Senate. In early June the Senate votes and passes the bill.

     In mid-June a House-Senate Reconciliation Committee is appointed. Two members of the majority party and one member from the minority party from the House and Senate are appointed to the committee and work to come up with a final budget. Near the end of June, the reconciled budget will be sent to the House and Senate for final approval. The final bill is then sent to the Governor for to be signed by the end of June. The Governor has the option to use a line item vetoes to strike items from the bill. A three fifths majority is needed to override a governor’s veto.

Review of 22-23 State Budget

     NOBLE Organizer Brittney Madison went over NOBLE’s report card for the last State of Ohio Budget. The report card lists proposals by NOBLE, and what was actually included in the State of Ohio’s 22-23 State Budget. It graded the State of Ohio’s funding of each category from A to F. Categories included Revenue (Grade F), Medicaid (Grade A-), Kinship Care (Grade D-), Education (Grade B/C),  Child care (Grade B-), Care for Older Populations and People with Disabilities (Grade C+), Food Assistance (Grade C), Local Government Fund (Grade D), Housing (Grade F), and Public Transportation (Grade C).

     Madison went over several concerns concerning the upcoming State Budget. She noted that the Medicaid expansion that resulted from the COVID public health emergency is likely to expire on January 11th 2023. This means that roughly 900,000 Medicaid recipients will be asked to reapply for benefits. Brittney said last year NOBLE proposed to maintain Medicaid eligibility for those at 138% of the federal poverty line without work requirements to qualify for the benefit.

     Will Petrik of Policy Matters Ohio said the State of Ohio did expand post-partum Medicaid coverage from sixty days to one year after pregnancy.

     For Kinship care (relatives taking care of children when parents cannot) last year NOBLE proposed that Kinship care providers receive the same funding as foster parents.

     In the area of K-12 education, NOBLE’s position last year called for a new funding formula to address the requirements of the Ohio Supreme Court rulings in the DeRolph case.

     In the case of Childcare, Madison said in the last budget NOBLE recommended eligibility be given to parents earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level. The State funded childcare up to parents earning up to 150% of the federal poverty level.

     Under Transportation, NOBLE proposed $150 million in state funding for public transportation. The State provided $70 million for public transit.

Priorities for 24-25 State Budget

     Following the analysis of the previous budget, NOBLE members broke into groups to determine their priorities for the upcoming state budget.

     The four groups examined the following topics: Revenue; Food/Housing/PRC/Family Support; Childcare, Healthcare/Mental Healthcare/Treatment; and Senior & Disability Services/Transit/Education.

Revenue

     The group that looked at Revenue called for creation of a Universal Basic Income, a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, a Child tax credit, and funds to sustain the livelihoods of crime victims and injured workers. The group called for ending the loophole that gives a tax break to Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs). It called for protecting the Municipal Income Tax of cities by continuing to base income tax on where the business of the employer is located. It called for defeating any income tax cuts & making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. The group called upon the State of Ohio to hire more wage theft investigators to go after employers who violate the minimum wage and overtime laws.

Food, Housing & PRC

     The group that looked at State of Ohio funding for food programs, housing programs, Prevention Retention and Contingency (PRC) program funding and family support set a number of priorities. The group called for promoting a healthy homes initiative which would address problems such as mold, lead, and other environmental problems in a major way throughout the State of Ohio.

     Another recommendation from this group was to increase funding for Kinship Care to be equivalent to funds received for Foster Care.

     The group proposed an increase in monthly cash assistance for families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and making additional funds available for emergencies through the Prevention, Retention and Contingency (PRC) Program.

Childcare, Healthcare, Mental Healthcare & Treatment programs

     The Childcare, Healthcare, Mental Healthcare and Treatment group called for a number of increases in services. They called for an increasing the eligibility for a childcare subsidy to 300% of the federal poverty level ($69,090 a year for a family of three.) The group also called for more funds to subsidize day care providers and help increase the pay levels of day care teachers.

     Other recommendations from this group included continuing Medicaid expansion for single individuals at 138% of the federal poverty level ($18,754 per year) and keeping existing Medicaid coverage for families for discretionary services such as dental, eye care, mental health and drug addiction services. The group also recommended that the State provide funds for social workers to accompany police on mental health emergencies or for social workers to respond to 988 calls.

     The group called for increasing the eligibility level for the State Child Health Insurance Program (for families with children whose income is too high to qualify for Medicaid) to 300% of the federal poverty level. They called for an increase in funds to programs that work to prevent infant mortality. The group also called for increased funding for prevention programs for all environmental problems leading to health problems – including mold, mercury, lead and indoor and outdoor pollution.

     Other priorities recommended by the group were coverage of mental health services for youths ages 18-30; increased funding for school psychologists and counselors for both Kindergarten to grade 12 schools and colleges. The group also called for increasing the use of diversion centers for both individuals committing misdemeanors and individuals committing felonies. The group called for the opening of more community mental health trauma centers.

Senior & Disability Services/ Transit/Education

     This group called for a dedicated line item in the budget for paratransit, Increased funding for free rides and decreasing the use of contractors. It also called for pilot paratransit programs for rural parts of the state.

     Another priority was to secure funding for extracurricular literacy programs.

     The group also called for matching funds to help with retrofitting Americans with Disabilities Act compliant public spaces and funds for homeowners with disabilities and families with children with disabilities to help make their homes accessible.

Lobbying the Legislature

     NOBLE urged members to begin to recruit people to participate in lobbying the legislature for State of Ohio funding for the above priorities in the first have of 2023 as the budget for the next two fiscal years is being prepared. Organize Ohio Executive Director Larry Bresler said transportation to Columbus would be made available to all who need it.

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