For the past month, Romney-Ryan and crew have been busy accusing President Obama of eliminating welfare-to-work requirements. You can hardly miss the campaign commercials that claim Obama has taken the “work” out of welfare reform. But what we haven’t heard is that state officials in Columbus are getting squeezed by the Obama Administration because Ohio failed to move enough people off public assistance programs into real jobs. The feds contend the state has mismanaged welfare reform since 2007.
It is former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration getting blame for not being aggressive with the work component. Now Ohio is desperately trying to dodge $136.2 million in penalties for failing to shift welfare recipients into the workforce. Next week, Republican Gov. John Kasich’s administration plans to spend nearly $500,000 on a consultant to help clean up Ohio’s mess. Public Consulting Group Inc. of Boston is in line to get the $499,642 contract. That company says the welfare to work reforms suggested by the Obama Administration in July — the waivers denounced by Romney-Ryan — could actually help get more people off assistance and into jobs.
Here’s language straight from the Kasich Administration’s request to hire the Boston consulting firm:
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Administration for Children and Families (ACF), notified Ohio of its
failure to meet the performance threshold of fifty percent (all
families) and ninety percent (two parent families) for TANF work
participation for FFY’s 2007, 2008, and 2009. These
notifications carried potential penalties of $32,758,572 for FFY 2007,
$45,050,074 for FFY 2008 and $58,517,487 for FFY 2009. Ohio’s current
corrective compliance will require Ohio to completely correct the
violation by meeting the work participation threshold during the current
FFY 2012. Failure to do so will result in a reduction of Ohio’s State
Family Assistance Grant (i.e. TANF) of $32,758,872 …”
State officials said the consultant would do analysis to increase work participation rates “in accordance with federal requirements.” Nobody is suggesting that work participation requirements be ended.
The consulting firm says it knows how to help a state win a waiver, which is an alternative way to assist TANF recipients into the workforce. The waivers are what Romney and Ryan have denounced as killing welfare reform. (So far, Ohio hasn’t asked the consultant directly to develop a waiver plan.) But the consultant Ohio is hiring is clear that waivers don’t end work requirements and they could actually help achieve better employment outcomes.
“The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) recently issued a challenge for states to develop and test new and innovative strategies that will improve employment outcomes in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program,” the consulting firm says. It sees the change as opening up “thoughtful and innovative approaches that connect TANF participants to jobs in a more effective and less administratively burdensome way.”
Again, the consultant being hired by the Republicans at the Statehouse in Columbus doesn’t say Obama is gutting welfare reform. The consultant says, “The waiver authority specifically allows states to test new ways of helping achieve better employment outcomes within the TANF program by offering flexibility on how work requirements and work participation are defined, administered and measured.”
The tougher reading standards could potentially hold back 12 percent of Ohio third-graders, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
With the new rules, kids would be tested every year starting in Kindergarten. Any kids who are below standards would receive special tutoring, and any who fail to improve to “proficient” or above by the time of the third-grade reading test would be held back.
Similar standards were passed in Florida a decade ago. While it was rough at first with 13 percent of third-graders in Florida being held back, scores have begun improving, Patricia Levesque, former education advisor to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, told The Dispatch.
However, research shows holding kids back hurts them more than helps. After reviewing decades of research, the National Association of School Psychologists found that grade retention has “deleterious long-term effects,” both academically and socially.
Kasich has also proposed tougher grading standards for schools and districts, which he hopes will hold schools more accountable.
Republican critics don’t necessarily oppose all the reforms, but they would like to see the reforms implemented more carefully and slowly. School officials, state education groups and teachers unions have repeatedly asked for more time to tell parents and teachers about the upcoming changes.
The news comes at a time when states around the country are moving to enact education reform after years of disappointment. In 2010, the U.S. fell to a rating of “average” in the international rankings released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. ranked No. 14 out of 34 OECD countries in reading, No. 17 for science and a below-average No. 25 for math.
One bright spot was found earlier this year when a report showed U.S. high school graduation rates had increased to 75.5 percent in 2009, up from 72 percent in 2001.
President Barack Obama has tried to encourage widespread education reform with his “Race to the Top” initiative. The program pushes states to compete for funds with education reform plans. The states with the best programs are then rewarded federal funds as they implement reform.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland won funds for Ohio with his reform plan, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan congratulated Ohio for being on schedule with reforms earlier this year.
A new Policy Matters Ohio report found local government funding has been reduced by $1.4 billion since Gov. John Kasich took office, leading to a nearly 50-percent reduction in state funding.
The report found local government funding dropped from nearly $3 billion in the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years — the years budgeted by former Gov. Ted Strickland — to about $2.2 billion in the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years — the first two years budgeted by Kasich. The governor’s most recent budget proposal would ensure the continuation of the downward slide, with local government funding dropping down to slightly more than $1.5 billion in the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, according to the report.
Policy Matters concluded new revenue from the state’s
casinos and an expanded sales tax would not be enough to outweigh cuts
in the Local Government Fund, utility tax reimbursements, tangible
personal property reimbursements and the termination of the estate tax. By itself, the estate tax, which was phased out at the beginning of 2013, would have provided $625.3 million to local governments in the 2014-2015 budget, but it was repealed
in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature and Kasich.
The governor’s office has repeatedly argued that the cuts in Kasich’s first budget were necessary to help balance an $8 billion budget deficit, but the Policy Matters report says improving economic conditions have removed a need for further local government funding cuts: “To encourage growth we need good schools, reliable public safety and emergency services and strong communities. During hard times, state and local policy led to cuts. But further cuts in appropriations for local government are not helping communities. Curtailing local control of local revenues will complicate recovery – as the economy improves, it is time to restore the fiscal partnership between state and community.”
When presenting his 2013 budget proposal, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the state funding reductions cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in revenues for the year.
CityBeat previously covered Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget proposal and how it affects taxpayers, schools and Medicaid recipients (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday laid out five steps that he said would have America “roaring back” during his first campaign stop since formally accepting the Republican nomination.
At Cincinnati's Union Terminal, Romney was joined on stage by his wife Anne, who spoke briefly, echoing her convention speech meant to humanize her husband.
He said his plan involved encouraging development in oil and coal, implementing a trade policy that favored American companies and not “cheaters” like China, making sure workers and students had skills to succeed in the coming century, reducing the deficit and encouraging small business growth.
“America is going to come roaring back,” Romney told the crowd of thousands packed inside Union Terminal.
Not everyone was so impressed with the GOP nominee’s promises.
About an hour after the Romney campaign event, Cincinnati Democratic leaders held a news conference to rebut the Republican’s speech.
“Much of his (Romney’s) speech was like his speech in Tampa, which is where Romney gave Cincinnatians nothing more than vague platitudes, false and misleading attacks without one single tangible idea on how to move forward,” said Democratic/Charterite Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson.
Simpson, along with Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas and Bishop Bobby Hilton, attacked the tax plan put forward by Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. They said it would cut taxes for the richest Americans while raising taxes on the middle class by about $2,000 per household, citing an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
“Mitt Romney’s plan would take Ohio and Cincinnati backwards, and we don’t have time to go backwards,” Hilton said.
Hilton credited Cincinnati’s revitalization and urban development in part on federal money obtained from Obama’s stimulus plan.
“We deserve better than this. We deserve better than Romney/Ryan,” he said.
Romney would have disagreed with Hilton’s assessment of Cincinnati’s growth. During his speech he praised Ohio Gov. John Kasich, crediting him with bringing jobs and businesses to the state.
Romney also took time to attack President Barack Obama’s record in office. The GOP nominee said in preparation for his convention speech he read many past convention speeches — including Obama’s.
“He was not one of the ones that I wanted to draw from, except I could not resist a couple of things he said, because he made a lot of promises,” Romney said. “And I noted that he didn't keep a lot of promises.”
Romney also criticized what he called the bitterness and divisiveness of Obama’s campaign, saying as president he would bring the country together. He mentioned the “patriotism and courage” of the late Neil Armstrong, who was honored in a private service in Cincinnati on Friday.
“I will do everything in my power to bring us together, because, united, America built the strongest economy in the history of the earth. United, we put Neil Armstrong on the moon. United, we faced down unspeakable darkness,” Romney said.
“United, our men and women in uniform continue to defend freedom today. I love those people who serve our great nation. This is a time for us to come together as a nation.”
The candidate’s remarks ignited the crowd of thousands, many of whom wore shirts with slogans like “Mr. President, I did build my business,” in response to a remark made by Obama about businesses being helped to grow by government contracts and infrastructure, and “Mitt 2012: At least he never ate dog meat,” referring to a passage in Obama’s 2008 memoir during which he recalls being fed dog meat as a boy in Indonesia.
Steve Heckman, a 62-year-old environmental consultant from Springfield, Ohio, said he voted for Obama in 2008 but will likely vote for Romney in this election.
He said he’d written “some pretty ugly stuff” about Romney in the past but felt jobs was the No. 1 issue and thought the Obama administration’s policies were sending them out of the country.
“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has, to me, become a little too almost like a fringe group, putting so much pressure on businesses that they are moving to Canada,” Heckman said. “Things like air permits, the EPA is taking too long to issue them. It’s not just power plants they’re affecting, but all manufacturing.”
Heckman said he didn’t blame the president personally but thinks whoever he put in charge of the agency is being too strict.
“I grew up when the EPA was first put in place in the '70s, and they were, in my opinion, doing God’s work,” he said, citing the cleaning up of rivers such as the Cuyahoga near Cleveland, which famously caught fire because of pollution in 1969.
“I support the EPA, but it’s driving businesses out of here.”
Speaking ahead of Romney were U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Rob Portman, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio treasurer and GOP senatorial candidate Josh Mandel and Republican U.S. House candidate for Ohio’s 2nd District, Brad Wenstrup.
“This election is all about changing Washington,” Mandel said. “The only way to change Washington is to change the people we send there.”
Last week, it was reported that the Ohio Department of Education had hit
the jackpot with a record $771 million in lottery profits. By state
law, lottery profits are supposed to go to the Lottery Profits Education
Fund, which funds schools in Ohio. At first, it seemed like a great
opportunity to increase education funding.
Maybe not. In a joint statement this morning, the Ohio School Boards Association, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the Ohio Association of School Business Officials explained the money does not mean more money for schools.
“While it is true that all Ohio Lottery profits are used by the state to fund education, the profit from increased sales was simply used to free up other state funds that had previously been set aside for schools, allowing more money to be transferred into the state’s rainy day fund,” OSBA Executive Director Richard Lewis said in the statement.
Despite the lottery profits, funding for Ohio’s school foundation payment program remains at $7.2 billion — exactly as established by Gov. John Kasich’s 2011 budget plan.
In other words, no gain for schools, but some gain for the state’s rainy day fund.
The news comes as a bit of a buzz-kill to schools that are already feeling cuts from the two-year state budget plan passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Kasich.
For the 2012 fiscal year, Kasich’s budget cut funding to the Department of Education down to $10.3 billion, a 4.9 percent reduction from the year before, largely due to the loss of federal stimulus dollars. But another 4.9 percent cut is planned for the 2013 fiscal year, lowering funding to $9.8 billion, which is even lower than the amount of funding the Department of Education received in 2008 and 2009 — before the state received federal stimulus dollars.
With the support of local officials from around the state, Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is launching a website called ProtectMyOhio.com to organize efforts to restore local government funding cut during Gov. John Kasich’s time in office.
Speaking during a phone conference today, Sittenfeld, Dayton Commissioner and mayoral candidate Nan Whaley, Columbus Councilman Zach Klein and Toledo Councilman and mayoral candidate Joe McNamara described how state funding cuts have forced cities and counties to cut services.
“What we’re really trying to do today is speak up and sound the alarm about the governor’s ongoing raid on the Local Government Fund,” Sittenfeld said. “Over the last four years, the governor has taken away $3 billion in local government funding. This year alone, municipalities across Ohio are going to receive nearly $1 billion less than they previously would have.”
He added, “This is the exact same money that cities, villages and townships used to keep cops in the street, staff our fire departments, fix the potholes and some of the other basic services that citizens rightly expect and the local governments are the ones responsible for delivering.”
In the past, the Kasich administration has argued the cuts were necessary. When previously asked about cuts to education and other state funding, Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesperson, told CityBeat, “The reality is we walked into an $8 billion budget deficit. … We had to fix that.”
But the 2014-2015 budget is not under the fiscal pressures Kasich experienced when he took office, and the governor is pursuing $1.4 billion in tax cuts over the next three years, which he argues will help spur small businesses around the state. During the phone conference, local officials said the revenue going to tax cuts would be better used to return funds to local governments.
Sittenfeld says the cuts have left Cincinnati with $12 million less per year. “That is the difference between us having our first police recruit class in nearly six years versus not having it,” he said. “It’s the difference between enduring dangerous fire engine brownouts versus not having to do so.”
Klein, who represented Columbus in the call, said the cuts have amounted to nearly $30 million for his city, which he said is enough money to help renovate nearly all the city’s recreation centers, parks and pools.
“No one is spared,” Klein said. “Everyone is getting cut across the state, and every neighborhood — no matter if you’re in a small village or in a large city like Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo or Dayton — (is) at some level feeling the effects of the cuts, whether it’s actual cuts in services or what could be investments in neighborhoods.”
Klein said the cuts, which have been carried out by a Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature, contradict values espoused by national Republicans. At the federal level, Republicans typically argue that states should be given more say in running programs like Medicaid, but Ohio Republicans don’t seem to share an interest in passing money down to more local governments, according to Klein.
Some state officials have previously argued that it’s not the state’s responsibility to take care of local governments, but Sittenfeld says it’s unfair to not give money back to the cities: “Cincinnati is a major economic engine for the entire state. We’re sending a lot of money to Columbus, so I think it’s fair to say we would like some of that money back. John Kasich doesn’t have to fill the potholes, and John Kasich doesn’t have to put a cop on the street.”
Whaley, who represented Dayton in the call, said, “There’s a county perspective on this as well. The counties would certainly say that the unfunded mandates that the state legislature brings down daily are covered by those local government funds. While (state officials) keep on making rules for the counties to administer services and make those efforts, it’s pretty disingenuous to say that (county officials) don’t get a share of the income.”
A Policy Matters Ohio report found the state has cut $1.4 billion from local government funding — nearly half of total funding — during Kasich’s time as governor. The report pinned much of that drop on the estate tax, which was phased out at the beginning of 2013 and would have provided $625.3 million to local governments in the 2014-2015 budget. The estate tax was repealed in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature and Kasich.
Cincinnati had structural deficit problems before Kasich took office, but local officials argue the state’s cut have made matters worse. When presenting his 2013 budget proposal, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the state funding reductions cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in revenues for the year.
Kasich’s office did not return CityBeat’s phone calls for this story.
Kasich’s latest budget proposal has also been criticized by Republicans and Democrats for tax cuts and education funding plans that benefit the wealthy and expanding Medicaid (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).
The Ohio Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit against Gov. John Kasich — who they claim is improperly using his office to campaign for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — to get the governor to release his schedule of public events.
The ODP’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, contends that Kasich’s office either ignored or only partially fulfilled the request.
“It’s unfortunate that this Governor is so opposed to transparency and public disclosure that we have to ask the Court to force him to follow the law,” ODP Chairman Chris Redfern said in a statement.
“Serious questions remain regarding whether the Governor has improperly used his office for the benefit of Mitt Romney, and it’s deeply disappointing Kasich is so secretive he won’t even tell the public what he’s done or where he’s gone.”
Kasich press secretary Rob Nichols said the administration doesn’t comment on litigation, but dismissed the Ohio Democratic Party’s allegations.
“We release public records in accordance with the law, and in fact have already publicly released the governor’s schedule six times, including a schedule request to the ODP,” Nichols said.
“This is predictable election year politics from the same people who were just rebuked for using public records demands to interfere with the Auditor of State’s investigation into possible data manipulation in some school districts.”
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jerid Kurtz said Kasich’s office did respond to one of the seven requests for the schedule, but some of the information in the records was redacted — including an entire week that was blacked out with no explanation.
“Ohio law is very clear, and it states you have to give a specific excuse when you redact something,” Kurtz said.
According to the lawsuit and court documents, the ODP requested on July 2 Kasich’s public schedule from that date through Aug. 27.
According to a letter to the Ohio Democratic Party from Mehek M. Cook — assistant chief counsel to Kasich — the information about the governor's future plans was blacked out because that information could put him at risk.
“The governor and his office receive threats on any given day and the release of his whereabouts increases security issues surrounding the governor’s safety,” Cook wrote.
Cook wrote that any information in the records used by the Executive Protection Unit assigned to guard Kasich constitutes a security record and was redacted.
He also wrote that some information that would reveal confidential business meetings and trade secrets that would harm Ohio efforts to court businesses was blacked out. Additionally, information not relevant to the request was redacted.
Kurtz said it’s important that the public have access those schedules because voters have a right to know what their governor is doing on the public dime.
The schedules include where the governor is and with whom he meets, but they also show scheduled phone calls and media interviews.
The Ohio Democratic Party worries that Kasich is improperly campaigning for Romney while receiving a taxpayer-funded paycheck, or using public money to have his staff do so.
The concerns stem from statements made by Kasich both in public and on his Twitter account either praising the presumed Republican presidential nominee or slamming President Obama.
For instance, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported that when Obama visited Ohio on Aug. 1 the governor tweeted “On the occasion of the President's latest visit to Ohio, we have a question for him,” with a link to a graphic asking “If the President's policies are behind Ohio's success, why is the rest of the country trailing us?”
Democrats claim that Ohio’s success relative to the rest of the country are due to efforts by President Obama, while Republicans say Governor Kasich is behind Ohio’s faster-than-average recovery.
While the Ohio Democratic Party is suing to have Kasich release his public schedule (Kurtz says Attorney General Mike DeWine and Auditor Dave Yost complied with similar requests in a timely manner) the state Republican Party has also submitted similar requests to Democrats throughout Ohio.
Kurtz characterized the GOP requests as being sent by Kasich’s “hand-picked lieutenants in the Ohio Republican Party,” though Nichols told The Plain Dealer that the governor had no involvement.
Ohio GOP executive director Matt Borges told the newspaper that the requests were routine.
Still, Kurtz called Kasich’s refusal to release his own schedule “hypocritical.”
“He’s a bully and the only way you can deal with a bully is fighting back.”
A seven-member legislative board on Monday accepted federal funding to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program to cover more low-income Ohioans for the next two years.
Republican Gov. John Kasich originally attempted to get the Medicaid expansion through the General Assembly, but he ultimately bypassed the legislature after months of unsuccessfully wrangling with members of his own political party to embrace the expansion.
Kasich instead opted to go through the Controlling Board, an obscure panel that typically handles less contentious budget issues that keep with legislative intent.
Most Republican state representatives, including local Reps. Lou Terhar, Louis Blessing and Peter Stautberg, signed a letter in protest of the tactic. The letter invokes legal arguments against the governor’s decision and could be the basis for a lawsuit in the future.
“Our protest is not about the merits or lack of merit in expanding Medicaid,” the letter states. “Our protest goes to the fundamental form of government upon which our country was founded — a Republic of checks and balances and separation of powers.”
Republican legislators say they’re concerned about the government’s involvement in the health care system and whether the federal government can afford to pay for the Medicaid expansion. They argue it would be better to pursue Medicaid reforms instead of expanding the program.
On the other side, Democrats, in a rare alliance with a Republican governor, applauded Kasich for embracing a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
Under Obamacare, the federal government asked states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. If states accept, the federal government pays for the full expansion through fiscal year 2016, and then gradually phases down its payments to an indefinite 90 percent of the expansion’s costs.
In comparison, the Kaiser Family Foundation found the federal government paid for nearly 64 percent of Ohio’s Medicaid program in fiscal year 2013.
The expansion is necessary to fill a so-called “coverage gap” under Obamacare and Ohio law. Without the expansion, parents with incomes between 90 percent and 100 percent of the federal poverty level and childless adults with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level don’t qualify for either Obamacare’s tax credits or Medicaid.
The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would insure between 300,000 and 400,000 Ohioans through fiscal year 2015. If legislators approve the expansion beyond that, the institute says it would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.
The federally funded expansion is set to begin in 2014. It will cost the federal government nearly $2.6 billion, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid.
POLITICO says Kasich met privately with billionaire Sheldon Adelson at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino during last month’s Republican Governors Association winter meeting. A call to Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols to confirm the meeting and inquire as to what was discussed was not immediately returned.
POLITICO, which often deals in political gossip, postulates that Kasich could run for president in 2016. The newspaper reports that Adelson also met with Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Bob McDonnell of Virginia — also rumored 2016 GOP candidates.
Adelson and his family have donated $84 million to Republican groups. Those donations include $20 million each to super PACs supporting Romney and Gingrich.
“After shadowy outside groups spent more than $40 million to support Josh Mandel’s losing campaign for Senate, Governor Kasich is actively positioning to be the next Ohio darling of the special interests,” Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jerid Kurtz said in an emailed statement.
“Ohio voters should be deeply disturbed that over two years away from his re-election campaign, Kasich is already showing signs he’s willing to serve the special interests and take the same path as Josh Mandel.”
Adelson is under federal investigation by the Justice Department for allegations of bribery and money laundering. A majority of his casino empire is based in Asia.
A new website called Cuts Hurt Ohio shows the impact of the state government slashing budgets. It gives a glimpse into how each county has been affected by cuts in education and local government aid programs.
For Hamilton County, the website shows cuts of $241 million in
the 2012-2013 budget. Education funds in Hamilton County were cut by a
total of $136 million, while other funds have been slashed by $105
million. The website also reports budget-related news headlines for
Hamilton County: “Cincinnati superintendent salary to be cut in half,”
“Townships may not have any police presence when they lose sheriff
patrols” and “Report: Children services in Cincinnati stretched.”
For all of Ohio, cuts total $2.88 billion. Education programs were cut by $1.8 billion statewide, and aid provided to local governments was reduced by $1.08 billion.
Innovation Ohio and Policy Matters Ohio opened created the website to raise awareness and show the differences between former Gov. Ted Strickland’s 2010-2011 budget and Gov. John Kasich’s 2012-2013 budget. The numbers are based on data provided by the Ohio Department of Taxation and Ohio Department of Education.
Since some cuts are due to the loss of federal stimulus funds, not all the cuts are directly linked to the state government slashing its budget. But the 2012-2013 budget will pull funding to the Ohio Department of Education down to $9.8 billion in the 2013 fiscal year, which is lower than the amount of funding education received before Ohio obtained federal stimulus dollars.
To check out the website, go to www.cutshurtohio.com.