by German Lopez 07.30.2013
Posted In: News, Business, Health care, Parking at 08:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City mulling disparity study, Medicaid expansion bill underway, parking hours criticized

City Council could use leftover revenue from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting policies. The study could cost between $500,000 to $1 million, according to city officials. Because of a U.S. Supreme Court case, the city must carry out the study before it can impose policies that favorably target minorities or women with business contracts. Since the city's last race- and gender-based program was dismantled in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses dropped from a high of 22.4 percent in 1997 to a low of 2.7 percent in 2007, but rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively unchanged. But the numbers could be understating how many minority-owned businesses there are because classifying as one is now voluntary, while it was mandatory in the 1990s.State Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee, says he wants to move on a package of bills that would include the Medicaid expansion by early October. The bills will also tackle other issues, such as how to deal with growing concerns about opiate addiction in Ohio. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio says the federally funded Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate roughly $1.8 billion for the state in the next year. But Republican legislators in the General Assembly say they're concerned the federal government won't be able to uphold its commitment to the expansion. Recent polling found about 63 percent of Ohioans support expanding Medicaid.East side residents pleaded with Greater Cincinnati Port Authority officials yesterday to reduce enforcement hours for parking meters under the city's controversial parking lease. The plan allows for enforcement until 9 p.m., but residents say it should only go to 6 p.m. to avoid hurting local businesses that might rely on free parking during the evening. The city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then manage the assets through private operators from around the country. The city administration estimates the deal will produce $92 million up front and at least $3 million a year afterward for Cincinnati, which officials plan to use for development projects and to help close budget gaps.Meanwhile, opponents of the parking lease appealed their legal challenge to the Ohio Supreme Court. Opponents argue the lease should be susceptible to voter referendum. The city claims Cincinnati's emergency clause powers allow council members to expedite laws and remove the possibility of referendum altogether. The legal challenge was initially successful in a lower court, but the appeals court ultimately sided with the city. It's unclear whether the Ohio Supreme Court will hear the challenge.Legal experts say it's unclear which, if any, of Ohio's new abortion restrictions could survive a court battle. The anti-abortion measures, which were passed in the state budget by Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich, impose a series of regulatory hurdles that require extra medical procedures prior to getting an abortion and could be used to shut down abortion clinics.An internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report suggests that fracking, an oil- and gas-extraction process, can contaminate underground drinking water. The findings could have implications for Ohio, which is currently undergoing a fracking boom as companies rush to tap into oil and gas reserves in northeastern parts of the state. CityBeat covered Ohio’s fracking boom in further detail here.Councilwoman Pam Thomas and ex-Councilman Cecil Thomas want everyone to know that they have not endorsed anyone for mayor.Ryan Widmer's mother, who gained notoriety for defending Widmer during his three trials, was found dead yesterday. There were no obvious signs of trauma or foul play. Widmer is currently serving 15 years for drowning his wife in a bathtub in 2008.Scientists may have to genetically modify oranges to save them from a deadly disease.

Ohioans Increasingly Reliant on Public Health Insurance

0 Comments · Wednesday, July 24, 2013
A poll analysis released July 22 suggests more than 1.25 million Ohioans between the ages of 18 and 65 are uninsured, representing about 17 percent of the state’s working-age population.  
by German Lopez 07.23.2013
Posted In: LGBT, News, Budget, Health care at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
evolution of equality

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio must recognize gay couple, Qualls knocks pension plan, 1.25 million in state uninsured

A federal judge ruled that a state death certificate must recognize the marriage of a newlywed same-sex couple, but the order only applies to James Obergefell and John Arthur. It’s the first time a same-sex marriage is recognized in Ohio. The two men had the case expedited because Arthur is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a deadly neurological disease with no known cure. Al Gerhardstein, the attorney for the two husbands, says the ruling could be the beginning of legal challenges from gay couples inspired by the Supreme Court’s ruling against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which could put further pressure on Ohio to legalize same-sex marriage. CityBeat covered ongoing efforts to legalize gay marriage in the state here, although the group in charge of the movement is now aiming to put the issue on the ballot in 2014, not 2013 as originally planned. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in a statement called the tea party-backed charter amendment that would revamp the city’s pension system “a wolf in sheep's clothing.” She is also requesting the city administration study the amendment’s consequences and report back to City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Aug. 5. The amendment would funnel new hires into a private retirement plan similar to what’s typically found in the private sector — except, unlike private-sector workers, city employees don’t pay into Social Security and don’t collect Social Security benefits from their years with the city. The amendment was announced less than a week after Moody’s, a credit ratings agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating in part because of the city’s increasing pension liability. A poll analysis from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati suggests more than 1.25 million Ohioans are uninsured, with about 17 percent of the working-age population lacking insurance. It also found that Ohioans are increasingly reliant on public programs to obtain health benefits. The analysis looked at the Health Foundation’s 2013 Ohio Health Issues Poll. The results could spur further efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility in the state, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found would save the state money and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade. Republican legislators rejected the Medicaid expansion in the state budget, citing concerns that the federal government wouldn’t be able to uphold its 90-percent funding commitment. Gov. John Kasich wants to fast track the I-71/MLK Interchange in part by using revenue from the Ohio Turnpike’s tolls. Kasich’s recommendations, which must be approved by the state’s Transportation Review Advisory Council, add up to $107.7 million in state funds. State Rep. Peter Beck, a Mason Republican who’s facing 16 felony charges of fraud, won’t resign his seat. Twenty-eight people have applied to become Cincinnati’s next police chief. With a recent uptick in violence, many have called on the city to expedite the process of replacing James Craig, the former police chief who left for Detroit earlier in the year.Despite rising interest rates, Cincinnati-area home sales in June continued their strong trend up. For-profit entities are opening more online schools in Ohio, with the process set by state legislators to shut out public educators. A previous investigation by CityBeat found online schools tend to do worse and cost more than their peers. The city administration and social media network Nextdoor are partnering up to better link Cincinnati’s neighborhoods with the local government. The network will provide a free website for each of the city’s neighborhoods, which the city says will allow residents to “to get to know their neighbors, ask questions and exchange local advice and recommendations.” City officials plan to use the websites to regularly reach out to local citizens. Computer software from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could make the Internet three times faster.
by German Lopez 07.22.2013
Posted In: News, Health care, Health at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
ohio statehouse

Poll: More Than 1.25 Million Ohioans are Uninsured

Ohioans increasingly reliant on public health insurance

A poll analysis released today suggests more than 1.25 million Ohioans between the ages of 18 and 65 are uninsured, representing about 17 percent of the state’s working-age population. The poll also found that working-age Ohioans are obtaining health insurance less through employers and more through public insurance programs like Medicare, Medicaid and veteran benefits. About two in 10 working-age Ohioans use public programs in 2013, up from 12 percent in 2006. At the same time, 52 percent now get insurance through an employer, down from 64 percent in 2006. The numbers are relatively unchanged from 2012, according to the analysis from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati. Nearly one in 10 of those who did have insurance also reported losing it in the past 12 months. “Certain groups are more likely to experience insurance instability,” said Jennifer Chubinski, director of community research at the Health Foundation, in a statement. “Almost half of adults living below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, African-Americans and adults with less than a high school education were uninsured currently or at some point in the past year.”The analysis also concluded that Ohioans with health insurance are generally healthier than those without it. The results came from the 2013 Ohio Health Issues Poll, which between May 19 and June 2 interviewed 868 Ohio adults by phone. The poll had a margin of error of 3.3 percent. It was conducted by the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research for the Health Foundation. The poll’s findings could spur efforts to widen Medicaid eligibility in Ohio, which has become a contentious political issue fueled by mostly Republican opposition and Democratic support. Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), states are asked to expand the public insurance program to include everyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $15,856 for a single-person household. If a state agrees, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion for the first three years then phase its support down to 90 percent, where it would indefinitely remain. The offer presents a great deal for the state, according to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. The think tank’s analysis found the expansion would insure roughly half a million Ohioans and generate about $1.8 billion in revenue for the state in the next decade. But the Republican-controlled General Assembly rejected the expansion in the state budget, despite Republican Gov. John Kasich’s pleas to embrace the Obamacare initiative. Legislators say they’re concerned the federal government won’t be able to uphold its commitment to Medicaid in the future. That, they argue, would leave Ohioans stranded if the state is forced to pare back benefits. The federal government and states have jointly funded Medicaid programs around the nation since 1965. About 57 percent of the cost is carried by the federal government.Still, the legislature will in the fall consider a standalone bill that would take up the expansion. But that bill will likely face continued opposition from tea party groups that are historically opposed to increased government spending at any level. Whatever the case, legislative approval may be politically prudent: Earlier-reported results from the Ohio Health Issues Poll found 63 percent of Ohioans favor the Medicaid expansion.

Meet Daniela

0 Comments · Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Republican policies are driving Ohioans — particularly the poor, women and minorities — into a perpetual cycle of near-poverty, and the victims sometimes can't even vote against it.  
by German Lopez 07.10.2013
Posted In: News, Development, Health care, Infrastructure at 09:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Kasich pushes Medicaid expansion, county to repeal sewer hold, riverfront link coming

It’s not even two weeks since Gov. John Kasich signed the two-year state budget, and he’s already pushing for the federally funded Medicaid expansion again. Kasich, a Republican, called on fellow advocates and Democrats to lobby Republican legislators into supporting the expansion. The administration says it would need legislation passed by the end of the summer if it’s to get federal approval for an expansion by Jan. 1. Studies found the expansion would save the state money and insure nearly half a million Ohioans in the next decade. But Republican legislators passed on it, claiming the federal government can’t afford the expansion even though the federal government has long upheld its commitment to Medicaid. CityBeat covered the state budget and Medicaid expansion in greater detail here. Hamilton County commissioners are expected later today to repeal a funding hold on sewer projects, just a couple months after the hold was passed in response to controversial city laws. The city and county originally reached a compromise over the laws, but the deal appeared to have fallen through when City Council failed to approve its end of the bargain. Still, commissioners are moving forward with removing the funding hold, according to WVXU. CityBeat covered the city-county conflict in greater detail here. Designers, engineers and architects will compete over how they’ll cover Fort Washington Way in a few months, and Business Courier has some possibilities for where the project may go. The project is supposed to connect downtown and the riverfront, maximize economic development, encourage recreational activities, preserve openness and more. Although the first phase is just finishing, The Banks has already won awards, making the final connection between the area and downtown all the more important to city and county officials. The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) will hold a meeting tonight for its regional strategic plan. Details are sparse, but OKI’s first plan since 2005 will likely put a big emphasis on Cincinnati. A draft of the plan will likely be available in 2014. The meeting will be at Memorial Hall from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. MSNBC pundit Rachel Maddow was caught in a “pants on fire” statement by Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer after she claimed Ohio’s budget mandates women seeking an abortion to undergo a vaginal probe. The budget imposes new limits on legal abortions in Ohio and effectively defunds contraceptive care, cancer screenings and other non-abortion medical services at family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood, but it doesn’t require women undergo a transvaginal ultrasound. Cincinnati topped Terminix’s annual bed bug list for most calls related to the critters, but it avoided a spot on another list for the highest increase in calls. Warren County’s racino is now hiring. One good thing that came out of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign: swag for needy Kenyan youth. Antimatter particles were detected erupting from solar flares. One major problem in brain training studies: People always realize they’re being tested, particularly if they’re playing Tetris for hours.
by German Lopez 07.02.2013
Posted In: News, Development, Voting, Budget at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach calls for Voting Rights Act rework, 3CDC upkeep criticized, politics in budget veto

Councilman Chris Seelbach and other local leaders are calling on Congress to rework the Voting Rights Act following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions. Supporters of the Voting Rights Act argue it’s necessary to prevent discrimination and protect people’s right to vote, while critics call it an outdated measure from the Jim Crow era that unfairly targeted some states with forgone histories of racism. “Within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, five states are already moving ahead with voter ID laws, some of which had previously been rejected by the Department of Justice as discriminatory,” Seelbach said in a statement. “The right to vote is one of the most sacred values in our nation and Congress should act immediately to protect it”. Nonprofit developer 3CDC says it’s restructuring staff and guidelines to take better care of its vacant buildings following criticisms from residents and the local Board of Housing Appeals. The board has fined the 3CDC three times this year for failing to maintain Cincinnati’s minimum standards for vacant buildings, which require owners keep the buildings watertight and safe for emergency personnel to enter. Gov. John Kasich said the funding allocation belonged in the capital budget — not the operating budget he signed into law — when he vetoed money going to State Treasurer Josh Mandel’s office, but The Columbus Dispatch reports it might have been revenge for Mandel’s opposition to the Medicaid expansion and an oil-and-gas severance tax. Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols says the allegation is “silly” and “absurd,” adding that Kasich said he would work with Mandel on allocating the money during the capital budget process. The state treasurer’s office says it needs the $10 million to upgrade computers against cyberattacks. Mandel was one of the first state Republicans to come out against the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered here and here. A series of mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts was supposed to take $66 million from Ohio schools, but state officials say they’ll be able to soften the blow with $19 million in unspent federal aid. The federal cuts — also known as “sequestration” — were part of a debt deal package approved by Congress and President Barack Obama that kicked in March 1. Prior to its implementation, Obama asked Congress to rework sequestration to lessen its negative fiscal impact, but Republican legislators refused. CityBeat covered some of sequestration’s other statewide effects here. The mayoral race officially dropped down to four candidates yesterday, with self-identified Republican Stacy Smith failing to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot. Check out the Cincinnati Zoo’s latest expansion here. Headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Where does John Cranley live?” It’s now legal to go 70 miles per hour in some state highways. Cincinnati-based Kroger and Macy’s came in at No. 2 and No. 14 respectively in an annual list of the nation’s top 20 retailers from STORIES magazine. The Tribune Co. is buying Local TV LLC in Newport for $2.7 billion to become the largest TV station operator in the nation. Human head transplants may be closer than we think (and perhaps hope).
by German Lopez 07.01.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Health care, Education at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Governor signs budget, school funding falls short in long term, Medicaid expansion denied

Following approval from the Republican-controlled General Assembly earlier in the week, Gov. John Kasich last night signed a $62 billion two-year state budget that makes sweeping changes to taxes and takes numerous anti-abortion measures. On the tax front, Policy Matters Ohio previously criticized the mix of income tax cuts and property and sales tax hikes for favoring the wealthy. Meanwhile, abortion-rights advocates say the budget will hurt women by limiting access to abortion, while Republicans say they’re trying to protect the “sanctity of human life.” The budget also makes changes to the school funding formula that increases funding to schools by $700 million, but the funding is still $515 million less than Ohio schools got in 2009. Stephen Dyer, former Democratic state representative and education policy fellow at left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio, says Republican legislators should have spent less time on tax reform and more on education. Although Dyer acknowledges the final education plan is more equitable than Kasich’s original proposal, he argues equity doesn’t matter much when schools are still underfunded. One policy that didn’t make it into the final state budget: the Medicaid expansion. Kasich strongly backed the expansion throughout the budget process, but Republican concerns about federal funding ultimately won out and kept the Medicaid expansion from the final version of the budget. Col Owens, co-convener of the Southwest Ohio Medicaid Expansion Coalition, says the expansion’s absence is irresponsible, but he’s optimistic it will be passed in a stand-alone bill later on. Owens and other supporters of the expansion argue it will help insure hundreds of thousands of Ohioans and save the state money by placing more of the funding burden on the federal government. One beneficiary of the state budget: low-rated charter schools. Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner today announced her candidacy for Ohio secretary of state — a position she will attempt to take from Republican Jon Husted. Turner is a vocal critic of Republicans’ voting policies, which she says suppress voters, particularly minorities and low-income Ohioans. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Friday released the first Human Trafficking Statistics Report, which his office plans to release on an annual basis to continue spotlighting Ohio’s trafficking problem. Law enforcement identified 38 human trafficking victims in the last year, but that’s only a fraction of the estimated thousands of Ohioans, particularly youth and those “at risk,” who are reportedly trafficked and abused each year. The Cincinnati Park Board won the National/Facility Park Design Award for Smale Riverfront Park. The award from the National Recreation and Park Association recognizes the park’s design, the inclusiveness of the design process and how the board met the local community’s needs for the park. This is just another major national award for The Banks; earlier in the year, the project won the American Planning Association’s 2013 National Planning Excellence Award for Implementation. Some Republicans are not taking last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage well: State Rep. John Becker, a Republican from Clermont County, now says polygamy is inevitable. Cincinnati is currently looking for a new police chief, and it already has 13 applications. Ohio gas prices are down again this week. Kasich says he’s not interested in running for president in 2016. Apparently, the unmanned Voyager 1 spacecraft entered a scientifically funky region last summer. Here is an explanation of what happens when stars collide.
by German Lopez 06.28.2013
Posted In: News, Health care, Budget at 03:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

State Budget Rejects Medicaid Expansion

But Medicaid funding increased by $1 billion

Despite strong backing from Republican Gov. John Kasich, the Medicaid expansion didn’t make it into the final version of the two-year state budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. Col Owens, co-convener of the Southwest Ohio Medicaid Expansion Coalition, calls the expansion’s failure a disappointment, but he says he remains optimistic the expansion will be taken up in future legislation. Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the federal government is asking states to expand their Medicaid programs to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or an annual income of $32,499 for a family of four. States are given a powerful financial incentive for doing so: For the first three years, the expansion is entirely paid for by the federal government. Afterward, the federal commitment is dropped to 90 percent, where it will indefinitely remain. The federal government on average pays about 57 percent of Medicaid costs, while states pay for the rest. So the 90-percent match for the expansion is a uniquely lucrative deal. But Republican legislators say they’re skeptical the federal government can afford such a large commitment to Medicaid, often calling the size of the expansion unprecedented. Owens claims there is a precedent for the Medicaid expansion: Medicaid. He says the federal government has historically upheld its commitment to Medicaid, which insures 2.2 million Ohioans. There’s no sign that will stop any time soon, according to Owens. To support his claim, Owens cites scoring from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan organization that scores federal policy proposals to gauge their fiscal and economic impact. In July 2012, the CBO found repealing Obamacare, which includes the Medicaid expansion, would actually increase the federal deficit by $109 billion over 10 years, which means the health reform law is an overall fiscal gain for the federal government. At the same time, analysts have found the Medicaid expansion would be fiscally beneficial for Ohio. Earlier this year, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio released an analysis that found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state about $1.8 billion in the next decade. Instead of being concerned about fiscal problems, Owens concludes opponents of the Medicaid expansion simply dislike the president, Obamacare and Medicaid. Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans, pushes back at that notion. He points out the state budget will increase funding for Medicaid by $1 billion, allowing 231,000 more Ohioans to enter the system. “When people say that we’re not doing anything for Medicaid, obviously that’s not true,” he says. “Certainly, we could have gone down the road of not funding that particular provision.” The increased funding is going to people who are already eligible for Medicaid but, for whatever reason, aren’t currently enrolled. The federal government expects the new enrollees to sign up as a result of Obamacare raising awareness and education about health coverage. In other words, the federal government already expects Ohio to pay for these Medicaid enrollees. Failing to do so would have likely violated the state’s Medicaid agreement with the federal government and, as Dittoe acknowledges when asked, resulted in penalties. Although the Medicaid expansion is out of the state budget, there is a bill currently sitting in the House that would take up the expansion. Dittoe says that bill will likely be looked at in the early fall. For legislators, that might be politically prudent: A poll released June 14 by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati found 63 percent of Ohioans support the Medicaid expansion, with a margin of error of 3.3 percent. The University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research conducted the poll for the Health Foundation between May 19 and June 2. The $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. It’s expected Kasich will sign it into law this weekend. Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:• Report: State Budget Tax Plan Favors Wealthy• State Budget's Education Increases Fall Short of Past Funding• State Budget to Limit Access to Abortion

Republican Medicaid Opposition Ignores Ohio’s Best Interests

2 Comments · Wednesday, June 19, 2013
As the state budget process winds down, it’s looking more and more likely that Republican legislators will reject one of the most obviously positive policies to ever come before them.