As every state waits anxiously for its chip off the old $800 billion in federal stimulus rock, Ohio is hard at work trying to figure out how to keep the lights on. With just $5 billion in federal relief expected for fiscal woes in the all nation’s most hard-hit regions — and tax collections dipping to Dust Bowl levels — Gov. Ted Strickland and legislative leaders have been poring through the books with weed-whackers humming.
In February, perhaps to put the boo-face on for federal budget planners, Strickland lamented a potential $800 million budget crater opening up in July at the beginning of the new two-year budget cycle. The pouting didn’t help much. More cuts came down the hill. Now, state leaders are toying with opening the state’s billion-dollar rainy-day fund, it being a rainy day and all.
Since federal mandates limit the trimming state budgeters can do to education and Medicaid, it’s all the other little things the state does that have to go — like services for notoriously non-voting constituencies, children, the needy and the mentally ill.
Like it wasn’t bad enough that nonprofit groups like Catholic Charities are trimming back and foundations are gearing more time and effort toward rehab, Rebekah Dorman, director of the state-funded Invest in Children program, told county commissioners on Thursday that a 57-percent reduction in service would occur on July 1 for her agency’s at-risk clients. The Help Me Grow program, which visits every new first-time mother in the county to counsel and affirm (and inspect), has been completely shut down. Dorman had 39 staffers not too long ago; now she’s got 20.
According to figures Dorman provided to Scene, these are the statewide cuts to services to children alone: $119 million from early education; $67 million from child-care services, $300,000 to behavioral health, and $57.6 million from Help Me Grow. And on top of it all: eligibility requirements will be steepened.
“It’s going to be a very ugly fall, I’m afraid,” predicted County Administrator Jim McCafferty.
Once again, do we have to remind all you worry-warts? The billion-dollar Medical Mart? Uh-huh. There’s that smile daddy loves. — Dan Harkins