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Groups urge more help for children

Say proposed budget in Ohio Statehouse doesn’t do enough

The state’s proposed budget could go further to help children and families in the state, correct the bad outcomes prevalent in Ohio with child lead poisoning and infant and maternal death, and should reprioritize spending in the state’s juvenile justice system approach, said members of Ohio’s Children’s Budget Coalition at a news briefing Thursday.

The Ohio House on Wednesday approved a version of the state’s two-year budget, HB 110. It was introduced Thursday in the Ohio Senate.

While there are some successes in the budget, the “moral document” that reflects the state’s priorities “doesn’t go far enough in doing right by the children of Ohio,” said Dr. Tracy N’jera, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio, one of 23 agencies in the OCBC.

“While children make up about 22 percent of our state’s population, we want to emphasize that they are absolutely 100 percent of our future. So, investments that we make, budget decisions and policy decisions that we make are really supposed to support who they can be in the future and every opportunity that they have access to make sure that Ohio is a place were all of us, everyone, can thrive, everyone can be healthy everyone can have their basic needs met. It shouldn’t be reserved for some, it should be for everyone,” N’jera said.

The measures the coalitions suggest are not very expensive, especially compared to the high cost that comes when the issues are left to fester, members said.

It costs more to ignore these problems in the long run, said Tim Johnson, an advocate with the Ohio Lead Free Kids Coalition.

“You will pay for these (issues) downstream, and they will be more significant of a cost,” Johnson said.

The money also is available.

“We must take this opportunity to make investments to make decisions that address their long-term health. Right now we have an opportunity to turn things around thanks to help at the federal level and also thanks to revenue estimates that are over what we anticipated for this year. These are important things to acknowledge, because there is plenty, there is plenty within the state budget revenue to do all the things we envision that children and families need,” N’jera said.

LEAD

The lawmakers did well to make a historic $7.15 million investment each fiscal year to support a new state / community grant fund to support community-led anti-lead poisoning programs, Johnson said, something the lead-free coalition has been advocating to pass. The state also has supported other helpful efforts to fund early interventions for kids who have been poisoned by lead and in implementing rules for lead-safe work practices, but the state should go further, he said.

The state’s lead abatement program available in each county to remove lead paint from the houses of kids on Medicaid and pregnant women has been helpful but needs more funding, Johnson said.

The program, which has helped 588 kids since 2018, is overextended and weighed down with waiting lists, Johnson said. Removing the paint before a child is irrevocably poisoned — known as primary prevention — and not waiting until the child tests positive is vital, he said.

“We know that secondary prevention just simply isn’t sustainable because we cannot continue to use kids as canaries in coal mines in order to address lead poisoning. If Ohio is to ever to get ahead of this issue, we must transition to a primary prevention model,” Johnson said.

Lawmakers should double the program, known as S-CHIP, from $10 million in funding to $20 million, he said.

About two-thirds of the state’s housing stock was built before 1980, a potential for lead hazards.

Lead poisoning, especially before age 5, causes developmental delays, speech and language problems, and decreases kindergarten preparedness and increases the chance the child will end up in the juvenile or adult justice system, Johnson said.

JUVENILE JUSTICE

It costs $185,000 to incarcerate one child for one year, and while incarcerated, children are more likely to be sexually victimized and experience trauma. Incarceration leads to increased recidivism, lower academic accomplishments, employment barriers and worse outcomes as adults, said Kenza Kamal, policy director for the Juvenile Justice Coalition.

It increases the likelihood a child will be stuck in the cycle of poverty and housing instability, she said.

The state has made strides in reducing the child incarceration rate — the population decreased from 1,600 in 2005, to 500 in 2019, and to 400 in 2020, Kamal said.

Still, the state is spending the same amount on incarceration, allocating this year $90 million to $92 million to run three youth prisons, she said.

The state is only investing $12 million on services that “work better,” like diversion programs, therapy, counseling and other behavioral health efforts that reduce both trauma and recidivism, Kamal said.

Ohio has the money to invest in the types of programs that actually reduce juvenile crime, but “the dollars are tied up in the wrong things,” Kamal said.

The state should focus on creating a more healthy and safe environment that serves kids and families, instead of abandoning and criminalizing them, Kamal said.

DEATH

Ohio leaders often speak about the importance of the family and family values, but the state has one of the worst outcomes for infant and maternal mortality, said Kelly Vyzral, senior health policy associate for the defense fund.

Although some progress has been made for infant mortality rates between 2009 and 2019, the disparity between outcomes for black babies and white babies has grown to 26 percent, Vyzral said.

There have been efforts to fund programs, but the state should do two things to decrease the rate, creating programs that encourage doulas — people who provide support and advocacy to pregnant women during pregnancy and birth.

Also, the state should take up the federal option to extend pregnancy health-care services to 12 months after the baby is born instead of just two months, Vyzral said. Many of the problems that arise occur after the baby is delivered — about half of the deaths — and about 50 percent are preventable, she said.

URGING THE SENATE

N’jera urges the state Senate to look closely at these proposals, which will build up communities and make them places where people want to live, and work them into the final budget bill.

The policies are designed to uplift populations that have been left behind, as many of the problems disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color, Kamal said.

The last thing the state needs is a tax cut for the wealthy, Johnson, Kamal and Vyzral said.

Vyzral said a proposed 2 percent tax cut wouldn’t affect people making $22,000 or less at all, and only saves someone making $88,000 per year about $4 per month.

The cut wouldn’t benefit working families and children, Vyzral said.

“What’s happening is, (the state) corrals some people into mass suffering, while others in our state have been doing so well that they’ve been pouring money into home renovations and other luxuries, which is actually what happened in Ohio during the pandemic for the wealthier people in the state,” Vyzral said.

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