by German Lopez
Hired organizations did not properly comply with federal stimulus requirements
Ohio’s inspector general released a report today
criticizing the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) for
improperly reimbursing federal stimulus funds to hired organizations
that did not follow rules.
In a statement, Inspector General Randall Meyer’s office
said ODJFS “failed to adequately oversee federal grant funds applied to
the Constructing Futures jobs training initiative for Central Ohio.”
The report released by Meyer’s office today, which focused
on stimulus programs in central Ohio, outlined a few instances of ODJFS
failing to oversee proper standards. In total, the department, which was
put in charge of carrying out job training funds in Ohio from the
stimulus package President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009, wrongly
reimbursed companies it hired for $51,700.81.
In central Ohio, ODJFS hired two organizations to carry
out the job training program, or Workforce Investment Act: Associated
Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) and Construction Trades Networks
(CTN). At ABC, the inspector general found limited problems with faulty
reimbursements involving a newspaper subscription, travel and mileage
totaling less than $100. The money was not accounted for as a
questionable cost since it was so small.
However, at CTN, the faulty reimbursements piled up. The
organization was reimbursed $560.61 for phone calls made prior to
being hired as part of the federal grant. It was also reimbursed
$1,613.62 for its invoices, even though documentation was not
provided to link phone calls as necessary to the grant program.
Under the federal stimulus rules, CTN was required to
provide 25 percent of its own funds for the program. CTN planned on
using $91,800 of in-kind funds — payment that isn’t cash — by paying for
trainee wages. The organization paid $60,927.70 by the end of the grant
period, and the organization was reimbursed for $49,526.64 by ODJFS, even though
the charges were supposed to be carried by CTN. The inspector general requested CTN give the money back to ODJFS.
When the inspector general contacted the organization to
explain the findings, CTN attributed the requests for faulty
reimbursements to confusion caused by multiple administrative changes at
“In addition, monitoring visits by ODJFS were not
conducted until after the grant period expired, even though the
partnerships were told the visits would occur as grant activities were
underway,” the report said.
Meyer’s office concluded ODJFS should review the
questioned costs, work to keep consistent guidelines through
administrative changes and monitor grant funds during the
The full inspector general report can be found here.
A report was released for northwestern Ohio was released
on May 10, and it also found wrongdoing. It can be found here. A report
for stimulus programs in southwestern Ohio will be released later.ODJFS could not be immediately provide comment on the report. This story will be updated if comments become available.UPDATE (3:28 P.M.): Benjamin Johnson, spokesperson for ODJFS, provided a comment shortly after this story was published.“As the report mentions, these were expenditures by local entities, not by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services,” he says. “We appreciate the inspector general bringing this to our attention, and we'll work to resolve the matter.”
by German Lopez
Facing budget constraints, cities and states cut budgets and jobs
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today released a disappointing job report. Unemployment fell to 8.1 percent in August, and 96,000 jobs
were added nationwide. But economists were expecting about 150,000 jobs,
and the unemployment rate fell largely due to people giving up on the
job hunt, which means they are no longer counted in the labor pool.One of the reasons for disappointment is the drop in
public jobs. People are quick to look at the private sector when these
kind of numbers come up, but the public sector employs people, too. And
the public sector lost 10,000 jobs at state and local levels, according
to today’s jobs report.
That follows the trend of the past few years. The public
sector has been doing poorly since the Great Recession started,
according to this chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
The chart shows state and local payrolls since the
beginning of the recession. It proves quite clearly that governments have
been making cuts to public jobs.Ohio has not avoided government job cuts. The Ohio
Department of Job and Family Services reported July’s unemployment rate
at 7.2 percent, which was unchanged from June’s unemployment rate. The
biggest loss in jobs for the month came from government, which lost
5,300 jobs statewide. In comparison to July 2011, July 2012 had 4,400 fewer government jobs.
Instinctively, it makes some sense. As the recession kicks
in and families and businesses are forced to budget for lower
expectations, it might seem natural to expect the government to do the
However, many economists argue it should be the opposite.
They say the government should be used to balance out the private
sector. In other words, when the private sector is performing poorly —
recession — the government should step in to make up for the drop. When
the private sector is performing well — boom — the government can relax
and run budget surpluses.
Paul Krugman, a Nobel-winning economist, has advocated for this approach time and time again. In his New York Times
column and blog, Krugman has pushed for more stimulus efforts from the
federal government, and he called for a much larger stimulus package
than the $787 billion package President Barack Obama signed into law in
The data seems to support economists calling for more
action. Last month, the Brookings Institute conducted a study that found
June’s national unemployment rate would be at 7.1 percent if
governments hadn’t made cuts.What this means is if governments truly want to fix the
economic crisis, they might want to kick the debt can down the road. But
considering many cities and states have constitutional amendments
requiring balanced budgets, that might be hard to pull off.
by German Lopez
Ohio Republican supermajority hangs on 14 votes, city unveils budget, county passes budget
In the Ohio House of Representatives, the difference between a Republican supermajority and a normal majority is now 14 votes.
That’s how many votes are splitting Republican Rep. Al Landis and
Democratic challenger Josh O'Farrell. The small difference has already
triggered an automatic recount and likely a series of lawsuits from
Democrats over counting provisional ballots. The supermajority would
allow Ohio House Republicans to pass legislation without worry of a
governor’s veto and place any measure on the ballot — including
personhood initiatives — without bipartisan approval.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled his 2013 budget proposal at a press conference yesterday.
The proposal will pursue privatizing the city’s parking services to
help close a $34 million deficit. The privatization plan has already
faced some early criticism from Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld. The budget
will also make minor cuts elsewhere. In addition to the 2013 budget, the
Tentative Tax Budget proposal, which Dohoney passed to City Council and
the mayor yesterday, also raises property tax rates.
Meanwhile, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners approved the 2013 budget in a 2-1 vote.
Democrat Todd Portune was outvoted by Republicans Chris Monzel and
Board President Greg Hartmann. The final budget was basically Hartmann’s “austerity” proposal, barring some minor tweaks. The cuts could cost 150 or more Hamilton County jobs.
Councilman Chris Smitherman is facing a challenge
for his spot as president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP. The
councilman’s opponent is Bob Richardson, a former officer of Laborers
Local 265 and former president of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council.
Richardson’s son told WVXU, “I think we have seen the NAACP veer off its
core principles and turn into a tool for Smitherman and his
In a promising sign for the local economy, Greater Cincinnati banks are taking in more money from deposits.
The 21c Museum Hotel opened yesterday.
But the hotel has critics, including Josh Spring from the Greater
Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. Drawing a comparison to the situation between
Western & Southern and the Anna Louise Inn, Spring said the hotel
ended up displacing far too many people.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is taking up research into how autism develops.
A new report found expanding Medicaid in Ohio could cost the state $3.1 billion. The money would be enough to insure 457,000 uninsured Ohioans. Previous studies found states that expanded Medicaid faced less health problems.
One concern with the state's “fracking” boom: water supply.
Some are worried that the amount of water needed to fuel hydraulic
fracturing, a drilling technique for oil and gas, will drain Ohio’s
wells and reservoirs.
After some sentencing reform, Ohio’s inmate population is not decreasing as fast as some state officials would like.
As the state deals with prison overpopulation and more expensive
prisons, Gov. John Kasich’s administration has turned to privatization. CityBeat looked at issues surrounding private prisons and the connections between the state government and private prison companies here.
Ohio women are having fewer abortions in the state.
The drop seems largely attributable to increased access to birth
control. Better access to health care and improved health education are
also factors.Ever forget to take some medication? No longer. There is now a pill that can inform others when it's taken.
by German Lopez
Lone Democrat dissents on $14.4 million in cuts
For the sixth year in a row, Hamilton County’s budget will
be getting some cuts. The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners
today approved $14.4 million in across-the-board cuts in a 2-1 vote, with Democrat
Todd Portune voting no and Republicans Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voting yes.
The budget’s cuts will affect every county department, but
they will not raise taxes. The plan will likely result in layoffs,
according to the county budget office. The sheriff’s office is the least
affected by cuts.
With a few revisions and tweaks, the plan is basically
what Board President Hartmann originally proposed. Previously, Hartmann touted the
budget plan by praising its “austerity” — a word that has lost popularity in Europe as budget cuts and tax hikes have thrown the continent into a double-dip recession.
Portune suggested an alternative plan that made fewer cuts and instead borrowed money against delinquent taxes.
By law, the county is required to balance its budget.
by German Lopez
City Manager's 2013 budget proposal must be approved by council, mayor
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled his 2013 budget plan at a press conference today. The proposal, which must be approved by City Council and
the mayor, seeks to close a $34 million deficit while avoiding major cuts
and layoffs. The proposed budget will only set the city’s course until
mid-June, when the city will transition into establishing budgets based
on fiscal years.
The biggest deficit plug will come from privatizing parking
services, which the city manager’s office says will bring in $40 million
in one-time revenue and additional revenue over 30 years as part of a
long-term contract. About $21 million of the initial lump-sum payment will be
used to close the 2013 budget deficit.
In the past, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld voiced concerns
about privatizing parking: “I’ll await more details, but
it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to forgo a steady revenue stream
for a lump-sum payment. Cincinnati needs a structurally balanced budget
and can’t keep relying on one-time sources. Places like Chicago and
Indianapolis have seen their parking rates more than double following
privatization — that’s a bad deal for citizens, and something we don’t
need while we’re experiencing an urban renaissance.”
Another concern is whether the city’s current parking
employees will be laid off if parking services are sold. Dohoney said
the deal for privatization will require the winning bidder to interview
all American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
(AFSCME) workers. Full-time workers who do not join the winning bidder will be
hired in other parts of the city government. “No AFSCME employee will be
placed on the street if they are full-time as a result of this effort,”
The rest of the deficit plug will come in cuts, cost shifting, savings,
revenue, embedded growth and one-time sources. Among these, notable
items include the elimination of the Mounted Patrol for the Cincinnati Police
Department (CPD) and a $610,770 reduction in Human Services Funding. A few departments and programs, including the CPD, will face
further minor cuts.
The city manager’s office claims the changes in the budget
are necessary mostly due to changes at the state level. Specifically,
the state government cut the Local Government Fund by 50 percent and
eliminated the tangible personal property tax reimbursement and estate
tax; altogether, losing these sources of revenue cost Cincinnati $22.2
million in the 2013 budget.
Facing the large deficit, Dohoney said he wanted to avoid across-the-board cuts and
other major cuts to growth and investment programs: “You’re not competitive
if that’s your approach.”
The budget also includes some
spending increases. The Focus 52 Program will focus on redevelopment
projects in Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. If it’s successful, the new
program will “grow the city’s revenue base, create new jobs and/or
increase the population of the city,” according to the city manager’s
In other budget news, the city manager will also send out
the Tentative Tax Budget proposal, which sets the millage rate for the
operating property tax. That proposal seeks to raise the millage rate
from 5.9 mills to 6.1 mills, which will provide an estimated $31 million
in revenue, up from $23.5 million. For a $100,000 residential property,
that means a tax hike of $46.
by German Lopez
City and county budgets moving forward, Cincinnati master plan approved, few voted twice
Screw Cyber Monday; it’s budget day! The Hamilton County
Board of Commissioners is set to vote on its 2013 budget today. The
initial vote was delayed when commissioners couldn’t all agree on the full details. In City Council, a memo revealed the budget should be unveiled today. One part of the Cincinnati proposal has already been hinted at by a previous memo from the city manager: privatized parking.
On Wednesday, City Council approved Plan Cincinnati.
The master plan, which is the first the city has undertaken in 32
years, creates short-, medium- and long-term goals. Built largely on
public feedback, the plan emphasizes Cincinnati’s urban core with new
transportation programs, community health initiatives, new housing
options and more. CityBeat previously covered the plan in-depth here.
In Hamilton County, 81 people voted twice.
The votes, which involved provisional ballots, only reflects about 0.2
percent of the county’s vote, but it shows some of the confusion and
inefficiencies of modern elections. One particular problem is some
elderly voters cast absentee ballots before the election and then filed
provisional ballots on Election Day.
A California firm is using Alaskan pension dollars to buy hundreds of homes in Greater Cincinnati. The real estate will be used to provide corporate rentals.
Some education advocates are worried state education agencies won't have the proper time and resources to implement HB 555.
A few provisions will have to be ready by mid-2013, which some
advocates see as too little time; but the president of the Ohio Board of
Education remains confident. HB 555 will radically reform the state’s
school report card system, which evaluates and grades schools. Some state
officials are worried the new standards, which will be measured in part
by new standardized tests, will be too tough. An early simulation of the new report cards
in May showed Cincinnati Public Schools dropping from the second-best
rating of “Effective” under the current system to a D-, with 23 schools
flunking and Walnut Hills High School retaining its top mark with an A.
State Medicaid costs are rising, but more slowly.
The slowdown may be partially attributed to Gov. John Kasich’s reforms
of the program, which is one of the most prominent costs in state
budgets around the country.
Gas prices in Ohio have gone up
in the last week. The prices were higher than they were in 2011, and
some experts say instability in the Middle East is to blame.
Ohio is looking good for a revival of the pharmaceutical industry.
That’s good news since the industry could be on the cusp of a “golden
era of renewed productivity and prosperity,” according to
Unfortunately for the pharmaceutical industry, the next generation of water pollution could be flushed drugs.
Here is the pope made out of condoms.
Science has been hard at work in 2012. Here
is a list of the seven greatest engineering innovations of the year.
The list includes the world’s largest semi-submersible vessel, which can
be used as an offshore dock, and a carbon-neutral office building,
which is arguably the most sustainable workplace ever.
The greatest public service announcement ever made:
by Andy Brownfield
Comprehensive plan sets short-, long-term goals for development
Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday approved the first
comprehensive plan in the last 32 years to direct future city growth and
All eight present members of council voted in favor of the
plan, after a 10-minute “love-fest,” as Councilwoman Yvette Simpson put
it, praising one another and the team that created the plan. The
nine-member team worked on the comprehensive plan for the last three
Councilman Chris Smitherman was not present for the vote.
“I can’t use the term that Joe
Biden, our vice president used, but this is a big deal,” said Mayor Mark
Mallory, referencing an infamous gaffe where Biden uttered an expletive
into a hot microphone.
The 228-page plan emphasizes urban development over suburban, citing population movement back into city centers.
The plan focuses on key areas and offers proposals for the near-, middle- and long-terms.
These include proposals to stabilize residential and
business areas, improve quality of life, improve housing choices and
affordability and offer alternative means of transportation to
automobiles, including the controversial streetcar.
CityBeat previously covered the plan in depth.
by German Lopez
Cincinnati unemployment drops, Ohio standardized test to be replaced, gas prices rise
Public service announcement: There will be no Morning News
and Stuff Thursday and Friday due to Thanksgiving break. Happy
Thanksgiving, and CityBeat will see you again on Monday!
With gains in the civilian labor force, Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 6.8 percent.
The city’s unadjusted unemployment rate is below the nation’s rate of
7.5 percent, but it’s above Hamilton County’s 6.2 percent rate and
Ohio’s 6.3 percent rate.The Ohio Graduation Tests will soon be no more. As part of
broader reform, state education leaders have agreed to establish new
standardized tests with a focus on college and career readiness.
But the reform faces some concerns from Democrats, who worry the new
standards, particularly the school report cards that evaluate schools and
districts, may be unreasonably tough. An early simulation of the new
school report cards in May showed Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS)
dropping from the second-best rating of “Effective” under the current
system to a D- under the new system, with 23 CPS schools flunking.
Gas prices in southwest Ohio appear to be on the rise. Since Monday, they have moved up 10 to 20 cents.
The Horseshoe Casino is hiring again.
This time, the casino is looking for people experienced in restaurant
management, hosting, banquet, finance, marketing and guest services.
One problem Ohio must consider in its decision to expand Medicaid or not: a doctor shortage. Still, one study
found states that expanded Medicaid had notable health gains. Contrary
to the fiscal reasons normally cited by Republican Gov. John Kasich’s
office, another report from the Arkansas Department of Human Services
found expanding Medicaid would actually save the state money by lowering
the amount of uncompensated care.
Thirteen people are going for the Ohio Supreme Court.
The vacant slot needs to be filled after Justice Evelyn Stratton
announced she was stepping down earlier in the year. Her replacement,
who will be picked by Gov. Kasich, will finish the two years of her
six-year term. Some of the candidates are from the Cincinnati area,
including Pat Fischer and Pat DeWine, the newly elected First District
appellate judge. Surprisingly, Republican Justice Robert Cupp did not
submit an application despite recently losing re-election.
A ban on internet sweepstakes cafes is on its way. The cafes are allegedly susceptible to illegal activities such as money laundering, racketeering and sex trafficking.
Marc Dann, the Democrat formerly in charge of the Ohio attorney general’s office, lost his law license for six months. Dann resigned from the role of attorney general in 2008 after 17 months of scandal-ridden service.
Three staffers at Gov. Kasich’s office were cleared by the Ohio inspector general’s office of engaging in political activity during work hours.
The mediation between Hostess and a striking union failed. The company is blaming the union for shutting down, but the free market is a likelier culprit.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, here is some science on weight gain.
A new way to give drugs to patients: injectable sponges that expand inside the body.
by German Lopez
Posted In: Education
at 04:29 PM | Permalink
Tougher tests seek to prepare students for college, careers
The Ohio Graduation Tests will soon be no more. The
Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and Board of Regents have agreed to
tests with a focus on preparing students for college and beyond.
Michael Sawyers, acting superintendent for ODE, praised
the agreement in a statement: “This is a major step forward in our
reform efforts to ensure all Ohio students have the knowledge and skills
necessary to leave school remediation-free and ready for their
post-secondary experience in higher education or workforce training.”
Private companies will soon be able to
compete for a contract to design and help implement the new
standardized tests. The tests are expected to kick in during the
2014-2015 school year, but state officials acknowledge they could be implemented in time for the 2013-2014 school year if competitive bidding goes well and funding is sufficient. Once the tests are active, high school sophomores will take end-of-year tests to gauge
college and career readiness. The tests will cover English, algebra,
geometry, biology, physical science, American history and American
The reform is part of a bigger effort that reworks Ohio’s education system with higher standards for schools and
students. As part of the broader changes, Ohio adopted the Common Core State Standards,
which are a commitment to raise the bar on English and math standards
for grades K-12.
The overall idea behind the reform has relatively bipartisan support, says Kelsey Bergfeld, a
legislative service commission fellow for Ohio Sen. Tom Sawyer.
Sawyer, a Democrat, is the ranking minority member in the Ohio Senate’s
The problem is in the details — specifically, the details
in a new school report card system established by HB 555, which will be voted on in the Ohio House
next week. Bergfeld says the current proposal by Ohio Republicans is
too harsh, which could make schools look worse than they are in reality.
That problem could be exacerbated by the new tests, she says: If the new tests are too tough, they could make schools and students look bad “because grades
are going to drop.”
An early simulation of tougher report card standards in May
found Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) would fall under the new system.
The simulation showed CPS would drop from the second-best rating of
“Effective” under the current system to a D-, with 23 schools flunking
but Walnut Hills High School retaining its top mark with an A.
by German Lopez
Posted In: Economy
at 10:49 AM | Permalink
City remains ahead of nation, behind state, county
The City of Cincinnati’s unemployment rate moved down a
notch between September and October, from 6.9 percent to 6.8 percent,
according to data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Greater Cincinnati and Hamilton County followed suit; Greater
Cincinnati dropped from 6.4 to 6.3 percent, and the county dropped from
6.4 to 6.2 percent.
The numbers, which were unadjusted for seasonal factors,
seemed positive overall. Unlike last month, the unemployment rate did
not move down due to people leaving the civilian labor force, which measures the amount of people looking for work in addition to the amount of people who have jobs. Instead, labor forces in Cincinnati, Hamilton County and Greater Cincinnati
The city is now better across the board than it was in
October 2011. The civilian labor force and amount of employed are
larger, and the amount of unemployed is lower. The city’s current 6.8
percent unemployment rate is also a vast improvement from the 9.1
percent unemployment rate in October 2011.
Greater Cincinnati and Hamilton County made similar
improvements in all numbers. Back in October 2011, Greater Cincinnati
was at 8.1 percent unemployment, and Hamilton County was at 8.3 percent.
However, Cincinnati remains below the state’s seasonally
unadjusted unemployment rate of 6.3 percent. It does beat the nation’s
seasonally unadjusted 7.5 percent rate, however.
Part of the recovery is likely fueled by improvements in the housing market. Cincinnati’s housing numbers from October showed a
16.5 percent year-over-year improvement, according to the Cincinnati
Area Board of Realtors.
Unemployment numbers are calculated through a household
survey. The unemployment rate gauges the amount of unemployed people
looking for work in contrast to the total civilian labor force. Since
the numbers are derived from surveys, they are often revised in later
months. State and federal numbers are typically adjusted to fit seasonal
employment patterns to give a more consistent rate, while local numbers