Every day that the Ohio Statehouse is in session is a dangerous day for the most vulnerable Ohioans.
On Thursday, the unconstitutionally gerrymandered Republican supermajority in the Ohio Senate passed their version of the two-year state budget, attacking poor families’ access to affordable housing, food, and medical care. All of these things are already severely underfunded, and they want to make it all worse.
Imagine being this monstrous toward families in poverty and calling yourself Christian. This flouting of the most fundamental concepts of their professed catechism howls with hypocrisy as they wield their dogma like an axe when it comes to using government to suppress others’ freedom of mind and body.
An old line in politics goes, “Don’t tell me what you care about; show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you care about.”
Their budget reveals that Senate President Matt Huffman and fellow Ohio Senate Republicans care about giving handouts and tax breaks to the wealthy and well-connected, and they do not care about hungry children and families who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, often forced to choose between paying the electric bill, paying rent, or buying groceries.
“The budget passed today by the Ohio Senate represents a cut in funding for emergency food programs over the next two years, and a drastic, permanent decline in revenue to support basic health and human services most Ohioans rely on,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
The association requested state funding of $50 million per year this budget cycle. Instead, Ohio Senate Republicans reduced the amount proposed by the Ohio House from $39.55 million per year to $24.55 million per year. The Senate also eliminated funds that would have made more free school meals available to students from families with low wages.
“The Senate has proposed weakening revenue to such an extent that basic services carried out by state and local agencies, schools and community providers will deteriorate – all to cut taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations,” Hamler-Fugitt said.
The Senate Republicans’ budget also includes an 81% cut to the Healthy Beginnings at Home program, a research project testing the impact of providing rental assistance with housing stabilization services to pregnant women, who are living in highly unstable housing, and are at greater risk of infant mortality.
They also want to axe the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and gut its services, moving a skeleton version to the Department of Development. The OHFA leverages limited resources allocated by the federal government to successfully facilitate housing investment and generate economic benefits for Ohio by leveraging public-private partnerships to drive affordable housing production. The OHFA has helped finance the construction or preservation of nearly 150,000 affordable rental units.
A March study found that Ohio still has a deficit of 270,000 housing units for extremely low-income families, a shortage that grew 6% worse in one year. Almost 70% of extremely low-income Ohioans are severely rent-burdened, spending more than 50% of their income on rent, according to the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. A letter supporting the current agency was signed by 277 organizations. Ohio Senate Republicans don’t give a damn.
Senate Republicans also want to remove hundreds of millions of dollars worth of child care funding sought by both Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the Republican Ohio House. Furthermore, they removed a provision proposed by DeWine to expand health care coverage to pregnant people and children through Medicaid.
Medicaid helps more than 3 million Ohioans get the health care they need. An estimated 220,000 Ohioans are expected to lose health coverage when they are dis-enrolled from Medicaid over the next year. Huffman and the other Ohio Senate Republicans who voted for this travesty once again do not care.
“The Senate budget is anti-child and anti-family,” said Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio Director Kim Eckhart. “It deprives hungry children of school meals, prevents pregnant people and children from accessing consistent, affordable health care, and creates barriers to household financial stability which run counter to our state’s economic prosperity.”
It’s always stomach-churning to watch extremist Ohio Statehouse lawmakers pass law against all expert advice and to know that it will cause harm and enormous pain to families. It makes me shudder to think of all the reporting we will have to do in the coming months and years on all that harm, while also knowing that they have entirely ignored all the reporting Ohio news media have already done on the heart-wrenching pain being suffered by millions of our fellow Ohioans.
As these families suffer, who will benefit from the Ohio Senate budget plan? People who are already well-off and well-connected.
Their budget proposal hands out private school vouchers like Halloween candy, increasing state spending on vouchers by $372.5 million over the next two years. These handouts will primarily benefit families whose children never even attended public schools, and it’s $322 million more than they want to give to provide food for hungry families.
The Ohio Senate Republican budget prioritizes $1.65 billion worth of income tax cuts where almost all of the benefit goes to the wealthiest households, and to drastically reduce the number of Ohio businesses that have to pay the state’s commercial activity tax. Huffman says their total tax cuts amount to $3.1 billion.
A Policy Matters Ohio analysis analysis finds that more than 86% of the proposed income tax cut would go to the 20% of households with the highest incomes. Half of the households in the state — the half with less than $62,000 in annual income — would see little or no change to their tax bill, the analysis found.
Meanwhile, Ohio Senate Republicans have also loaded their budget down with a culture war wish-list of attacks on education in Ohio.
President Huffman’s toady in this assault on independent education and Ohio’s most vulnerable families is state Sen. Matt Dolan, the supposed “moderate” in the race for the Ohio Republican 2024 nomination for U.S. Senator.
And here is what I find truly appalling after I spent nearly a decade reporting on poverty in Appalachia: These thoughtless, callous Ohio Republican Senators are inflicting this pain just as much on the rural Ohio families in poverty who vote for them as they are on the urban Ohio families in poverty who do not. They are wreaking havoc and bringing financial hell down on their own political constituency, and using culture wars to play them all like suckers.
It’s a cruel, unbounded kind of cynicism that seems to motivate them, and puts me in mind of an old Molly Ivins line: “As they say around the Texas Legislature, if you can’t drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against ’em anyway, you don’t belong in office.” Might as well be Ohio.
OCJ Editor-in-Chief and Columnist David DeWitt has been covering government, politics, and policy in Ohio since 2007, including education, health care, crime and courts, poverty, state and local government, business, labor, energy, environment, and social issues. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, The Athens NEWS, and Plunderbund.com. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is a board member of the E.W. Scripps Society of Alumni and Friends. He can be found on Twitter @DC_DeWitt
This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.