Angry. Frustrated. Disappointed. Disturbed.
Those were the words various advocates used to describe the Ohio Senate’s version of the budget, which was released last week.
“When I first saw a draft of this, it was so bad I thought it was a mistake,” Michael Corey, executive director of the Human Service Chamber of Franklin County said during a press conference Monday morning at the Ohio Statehouse. “This benefits nobody. This hurts millions. This doesn’t make any sense. Send this back and do better.”
Gov. Mike DeWine must sign the two-year state budget by June 30.
“There are clear winners and losers that we see before us in the Senate budget,” said Kelsey Bergfeld, director of Advocates for Ohio’s Future. “Unfortunately, those winners are not the people of Ohio. It’s not families. It’s not focusing on those struggling to get to work and make ends meet.”
The Senate’s budget would make private school vouchers almost universal at 450% of the federal poverty level, allowing families who could be able to pay tuition for private education to be eligible for scholarships.
“The people in the Senate continue to defund things that are important to education outcomes and important to children’s futures,” said Melissa Cropper, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
A 2016 report from the Brookings Institute report found that public school students in Louisiana and Indiana who received vouchers to attend private schools scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students in public schools.
“Vouchers do not have a positive impact on student outcomes when you’re comparing voucher students to their equivalent in the public school,” Cropper said.
Senate Bill 1, which would change the Ohio Department of Education to the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce and put the department under the governor’s office, was also included in the Senate budget.
“Why are we taking power away from people who are being elected at a local level to represent us and putting into the hands of the governor?” Cropper asked. “A bill like this has no place in our budget. A bill like this should be a standalone bill.”
SB 1, which passed the Senate by a party-line in March, would create a new leadership position under the governor’s cabinet.
“Forcing legislators to make a choice between a budget and the restructuring of public education is not the right way to enact this type of legislation,” Cropper said.
The Senate also killed a provision in the budget the Ohio House put in that would make school meals free for those whose household income qualified them for free or reduced meals.
“The Senate budget continues on by taking food out of the mouths of hungry children,” said Nick Bates, executive director of the Hunger Network in Ohio.
Advocates and school staff have testified in committees in support of making free school meals more accessible to students.
“With appropriate state funding to pick up where the federal funding falls short, school food service departments in our urban cities and in our rural counties could offer breakfast and lunch at no cost to all students, eliminating all the stigma that has perpetuated for decades around school meal benefits,” Alexis Weber, food service director for Austintown Local Schools in Mahoning County, said during a March Ohio House Finance subcommittee meeting on primary and secondary education.
The Senate’s budget cuts back on Ohio Association of Foodbanks funding and adds a request for the Department of Medicaid to establish work reporting requirements for Medicaid.
It also axed a provision from the House that would have given $15 million per year for the next two years to the Ohio Food Program and Agricultural Clearance Program.
“Ohioans are regularly going without the basic right to healthy, wholesome food,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Executive Director, Ohio Association of Foodbanks. “They are endangering their physical and mental health and well-being.”
About 1.4 million people face hunger in Ohio, including 412,000 children.
OAF, which helped feed 3.2 million people January through March, conducted an anonymous study with more than 2,000 responses to 33% of Ohio zip codes and found that nearly 2 in 3 Ohio households have adults who have “cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there wasn’t enough money for food” in the last year.
“The Senate budget would be a disaster for Ohio foodbanks, Ohio’s children, parents, families, caregivers, workers, job seekers, older adults and disabled residents that are struggling under the weight of more than a year of record high food and housing inflation,” said Hamler-Fugitt.
The Senate budget got rid of a provision that would have created a new affordable housing tax credit program.
“At a time when we need to be building faster to meet the needs of spectacular growth, we are going to make it harder for affordable housing,” Corey said. “That makes no sense.”
The program would have enticed developers to build low-incoming housing by making state tax credits accessible to projects receiving federal aid.
There were only 199,118 affordable and available rental units for 455,993 extremely low-income renters and a shortage of 256,875 units in Ohio in 2018, according to a 2021 Ohio Housing Finance Agency report.
The Senate budget gives tax cuts to the rich, said Guillermo Bervejillo, a state policy fellow for Policy Matters Ohio.
“Make no mistake, it is a cut for the wealthiest amongst us,” he said.
The Senate’s budget dwindles down existing state income tax brackets from four to two.
Kept from the House’s budget, any income below $26,050 is not subject to tax, and income beyond that mark faces a 2.75% rate.
However, the Senate’s budget only has one more slightly higher rate at 3.5% bracket starting at $92,150, whereas the House’s budget levies slightly higher rates at about $92,000 and $115,000.
“This budget is a mistake. Fix it,” Corey said. “Ohioans in our economy can’t realize their potential if our workers, our people can’t get childcare, can’t eat, can’t get health care and can’t get a place to live.”
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.