Monday, March 26, 2007


Opening A Can of Worms?

At the risk of opening a can of worms, I have been surprised that some advocates have criticized Governor Strickland’s budget for putting more of an emphasis on funding “programs” then passing the funding directly to “people.” I don’t believe that is actually the case, particularly when one looks at the budget as a whole. Particularly when you consider the investments the budget proposes in financial assistance, emergency food assistance, assistance with utility bills, tax relief, health care coverage expansions, and child care assistance (to name just a few).

Just like in past budgets, much of the conversation about spending priorities is revolving around TANF spending. When I undertook a nearly 10 year review of Ohio TANF and Child Care Development Block Grant spending for the Brooking Institution I found a very clear bias towards spending TANF dollars on programs rather than giving the funds directly to TANF recipients. Of course this bias of funding programs over people is written right into the TANF law itself – the 5 year time limit (3 years in Ohio) on assistance makes that fairly clear. In contrast there is no time limit on services and at least two of the four purposes of TANF don’t event contain a requirement that the dollars be spent to aid needy families. The lack of a time limit on services was welcomed by advocates at the start of the program because they saw it as a way to get ongoing help to needy families.

So in terms of Governor Strickland’s budget and TANF spending; I know that some advocates are concerned that the TANF spending plan doesn’t include more than a single cost of living increase in the TANF monthly grant, and then only in the last six months of the budget. I agree that the TANF budget could probably absorb a cost of living increase in both years of the budget. Having said that, I would also note that the TANF block grant (ODJFS line item 600-689) appropriation levels assumed by this budget are the highest in the history of the program (although the percentage increase is smaller than the percentage increase the legislature authorized in state fiscal year 2005). The effect of this much higher appropriation will be a steady decline in balance of unspent TANF dollars. In fact those programs or services funded in this budget under TANF would be well advised to begin thinking ahead to the next budget and considering how they might be funded in the future.

Advocates shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this budget proposes to spend tens of millions of additional dollars on items that will assist Ohio’s struggling low-wage workers. I’m talking about dollars for food assistance, energy assistance, adoption and kinship care assistance, child care aid, and health care coverage for at least another 50,000 uninsured Ohioans.

Having said all this, I think it's important for advocates to keep two things in mind. One, this is the Governor's budget proposal and the legislature is likely to have their own ideas about how do do things so advocates would be smart to lobby first to protect the things they like in the Governor's budget (and to lobby for those things that should be in the Governor's budget but aren't). Second, I don't think it's helpful for us to allow ourselves to be pitted against one another. The better strategy is make a positive case to the public and policy makers about what we think is important. Ultimately that is the only winning strategy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Spending Down the TANF Surplus

The Capitol Monitor has an interesting story about the Governor Strickand’s budget as it relates to TANF spending. The article written by Judy Bird correctly points out that one of the ways that the Governor is funding his proposed budget without tax or fee increases is by spending down the TANF balance that was accumulated during the Taft administration. Each year the federal government gives Ohio an annual TANF grant of $728 million, but the Governor’s budget proposal appropriates $1,037,739,200 in 2008 and $1,085,861,009 in 2009. Over a two-year period the budget appropriates roughly $667 million more in federal TANF funds than we get in our two year grant. This is why the administration says they will have spent the surplus down to $110.1 million by the beginning of SFY 2010.

Of course we have heard these predictions before, and in the past the only thing more plentiful than surplus TANF dollars were ODJFS predictions that the money was already gone or would soon be gone. The thing that is different this year is the fact that the Governor is proposing to appropriate more than they actually receive on a year to year basis. In fiscal years 2004 and 2005 they actually spent considerably less than what they received from the federal government, it wasn’t until fiscal year 2006 that they spent more, and then it was only $18 million more which was merely a drop in the bucket. One question I do have is about the assumptions for fiscal year 2007 TANF Block Grant spending. The Strickland budget estimates that TANF expenditures for 2007 will total $1,027,739,200. This is roughly $235 million more than was appropriated in H.B. 66. I believe it’s reasonable to question the spending estimate for 2007 especially knowing that many of the projects included in the estimate were slow to get started or have consistently been under spent.

There is a lot more to say about the administration’s TANF priorities and observations about how the legislature might respond, but I will leave that for later.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Ready, Set, Wait

Well today was the day that everyone around and inside capital square have been waiting for since the State of State address last Wednesday and the release of the Governor’s budget last Thursday. It was day that the actual legislation, H.B. 119 (over 2,000 pages long!), was released and it was the day that Pari Sabety, Director of the Office of Budget and Management delivered opening testimony on the budget. In sort of strange twist (at least to me), Committee Chairman Matthew Dolan (R-Chardon) announced that Sabety wouldn’t be answering questions today, but instead would be coming back next week to answer questions. He also indicated that the Finance Committee wouldn’t be meeting on Wednesday and that Thursday would be set aside for the various subcommittees to begin their hearings.

Sabety’s testimony was strong and straightforward. She constantly referred back to Governor Ted Strickland’s “Turn Around Ohio” agenda and referred to the Governor’s budget at one point as “beginning our state’s journey back to prosperity.” She asserted that the budget was balanced, and that it represented the slowest growth budget in 42 years. She then walked through each of the Governor’s major initiatives and outlined a series of new spending or modified spending proposals.

Sabety was followed by Chuck Phillips of the Ohio Legislative Services Commission who delivered fairly testimony related to their general revenue fund projections, Medicaid caseload numbers and TANF caseload projections. I picked up two things from his testimony. One was that they are predicting slight lower revenues than the administration. If the legislature decides to use lower revenue numbers then the administration projected the legislature will have to reduce spending by a corresponding amount to keep the budget balanced. The second thing that caught my attention was their projection that the number of people on Medicaid would actually decline from 2007 to 2009 (despite the significant coverage expansions contained in the Governor’s budget) and that a major reason for the declines are the new Medicaid citizenship verification rules that were included in the Deficit Reduction Act passed by Congress last year. This is an issue that needs to be addressed at both the state and national level.

I have an overall sense that legislators of both parties are still getting adjusted to their new roles. The Republican members are adjusting to having less access to information than they did under the previous Republican administration and while the Democratic members have more access to information, they have to adjust from their past role as critic. There are also 5 freshmen members on the committee (I don’t count House returnees like Barbara Boyd or Jay Hottinger as freshmen) for whom this is all new. I was glad to see that Mark Niquette of the Columbus Dispatch set the record straight on whether the Strickland administration was taking longer than previous new Governors to introduce an actual budget bill. The verdict -- Strickland's actual budget bill was available sooner then the first Taft, Voinovich, and Celeste budgets were available.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Who Did We Care America Really Care About?

Dayton Daily News Reporter Laura Bischoff brought to light some unsettling news last Saturday when she wrote about the decision of former Governor Bob Taft’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives to sign a $3,500 a day contract with an outfit called We Care America to administer faith based and community based contracts (it's a mystery to me why state workers couldn’t have done this) that were assisting former prisoners, promoting marriage, and helping youth. The state handed over $2.1 million in TANF funds to the organization in just a 20 month period.

The article revealed that the organization use TANF funds to pay for reserved parking spaces, two 50-inch flat screen televisions that don’t work, and a “study” that praised their work. In addition at least 15 local groups have complained that they haven’t been paid by We Care America for the work that they did.

Now today Bischoff reveals that the organization has closed, staff has disappeared, and it appears that the only thing We Care America cared about was itself.

Interestingly the person who directed the office and approved the contract, Krista Sisterhen, is now on another quasi public payroll. She is serving as the area manager for faith-based and community initiatives at the Corporation for National and Community Service. Governor Strickland has asked the Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles to investigate the whole mess.

While We Care America was caring about themselves the number of children and others living in poverty in Ohio climbed. While We Care American was caring about themselves the State claimed there wasn’t enough TANF money to give poor families and children a grant increase. Maybe it wasn’t a question about whether there was enough money, maybe it was just a question about priorities. It’s time to start investing TANF funds in things that matter like a grant increase, early care and education and a state earned income tax credit.

Monday, March 12, 2007


State Budgeting Matters Surveys Other State Budget Proposals

This week's edition of State Budgeting Matters takes a look at what other states are doing in terms of their budgets. The most interesting item to me was a proposal by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm for local government and school consolidation. According to Sheridan, Governor Granholm is proposing incentives for those who do consolidate and eventual penalties for those who don't.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Governor Strickland Opens PASSPORT Doors

Great news today, Governor Ted Strickland issued an executive order asking the Ohio Department of Aging to reopen the PASSPORT doors to over 1,000 older adults who are on the PASSPORT waiting list. This issue has been a priority issue for The Center for Community Solutions, the Council on Older Persons (COOP), and the Campaign to Protect Ohio's Future. It represents good policy from both a human standpoint (most people would prefer to stay in their own home) and a fiscal standpoint (PASSPORT costs a fraction of what it costs to keep someone in a nursing home). Please take a moment to either call Governor Strickland (614-466-3555 ) or contact him online and thank him for this bold step!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?