As the Ohio Senate continues hearings on the biennial state budget, there are calls for lawmakers to move the needle on investments in child wellbeing.
While the House version of a $74 billion two-year budget would increase funding for K-12 education and invests in student wellness, the Ohio Children's Budget Coalition contended it rejected proposals to address infant mortality, child lead poisoning and other issues.
Will Petrik, budget researcher for Policy Matters Ohio, noted the plan does include a 2% income tax cut at a time when the state is surpassing revenue projections.
"Ohio has enough," Petrik asserted. "We have enough resources to make sure that kids and families can thrive, and it is ultimately about choices. Since 2005, Ohio has cut the income tax rate several times."
The coalition urged the Senate to consider several provisions to help children and families, including increasing funding for the state's home-visiting program for new mothers and their babies, and extending postpartum coverage for Medicaid eligible women from 60 days to 12 months.
Gina Wilt, advocacy director for the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, said increased funding is also needed to support local programs that help young adults and pregnant youths escape homelessness.
"We have, over the course of a year, over 8,000 youths experiencing homelessness ages 16 through 24," Wilt stated. "And we know that homelessness can cause lifelong consequences for health, development."
The coalition urged the Senate to increase the initial eligibility for publicly funded child care from 130% of the federal poverty level to 200%, instead of 138% as proposed by the House.
Tracy Najera, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund of Ohio, contends it would better prepare children for the future.
"It's investments early that avoid larger costs later on down the line," Najera stressed. "Either in terms of youths not graduating from high school, not having the soft and hard skills needed to be employable later on in life, or heightened risk of involvement with the justice system."
On May 13, the Senate Finance Committee held another hearing on the budget, which must be signed by the governor by June 30.