Ohio General Assembly. File photo.

Calls to Help Ohioans in Crisis as Budget Talks Continue

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

COLUMBUS, Ohio – As work continues this week on Ohio’s budget, there are calls for lawmakers to prioritize funding to support Ohioans in crisis. 

The Senate Finance Committee holds its fourth public hearing Tuesday on the two-year spending plan due June 30. 

Additional money for mental health and addiction programs, as well as wraparound services to help at-risk students, are in the House version of the budget. 

Wendy Patton, senior project director with the research institute Policy Matters Ohio welcomes these new investments, and contends other social determinants of health also need attention.

“Like making sure that people have safe, modest but decent housing,” she stresses. “That they have enough wholesome nutritious food to eat. That they have mental health care so that anxiety or depression doesn’t go into a drug addiction. And especially so that they are protected from domestic violence. “

Patton says more funding is needed to meet the growing demand for food assistance, and to address an increase in homelessness through investments in the Ohio Housing Trust Fund. 

The House budget provides no funding increase for food banks, and the Housing Trust Fund has lost revenue since the recession. 

Patton notes the House budget also addresses the state’s lack of funding for domestic violence programs, which currently rely on federal and local funds. It includes a $1 million investment from the General Revenue Fund.

“The state should be doing more to pick up its share of preventing and responding to the terrible problem of domestic violence,” she states. “This new funding will support shelters, hotlines, prevention education.”

The nearly $69 billion House budget was approved with bipartisan support, in comparison to many states where budgets pass on a party line vote. But Patton expects a battle in the Senate. 

“I sat through the hearings on general tax policy before the Senate Finance Committee,” she relates. “And there were great complaints and outcries about measures that the House has taken to increase revenues that support these badly needed investments. “

Some groups argue that Ohio’s economy could suffer from the increased spending, and the House reduced the General Revenue Fund to meet a statutory appropriation limit on spending growth. 

According to The Buckeye Institute, state spending would be more than 4% higher in the first year of the budget, and another 2.8% higher in 2021. 

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by The George Gund Foundation.