Health care, the opioid epidemic, and school funding were hot topics July 12 when state Rep. Dick Stein (R-New London) visited the Herrick Memorial Library.
The freshman congressman from Ohio’s 57th District held a town hall to talk about the state’s $71.5 billion budget for 2017 and 2018, fielding questions from a small group of residents.
“Being new to the whole process, I was warned ahead of time that it would be a lot like drinking from a fire hose, and it was,” Stein said of the budget-making process.
About $3 million in grants will be made available through the Ohio attorney general’s office for “rapid response programs” meant to provide counseling services to opioid and heroin addicts, Stein said.
Such programs have already been used in a few counties, mostly in southern Ohio, but they could expand to other areas.
Stein said there have also been a lot of conversations about the cost of naloxone, which is sold under the brand name Narcan. He said taxpayers are covering the cost every time an overdose victim is revived.
“At what time does personal responsibility kick in? That’s a hard question. Who wants to be the one to sit there and watch someone die? Some people are revived five or more times and not getting into recovery,” he said.
Roughly 70 percent of people counseled by a rapid response team make the decision to enter rehab soon thereafter, according to Stein.
Sheriff’s deputies, police officers, paramedics, and treatment professionals should be readily available to help addicts get treatment, he said. “However, there is no mechanism right now that’s the normal course of action. If someone gets revived and refuses treatment, there’s nothing law enforcement can do to make them get treatment. This rapid response course is basically meant to encourage these folks to get the help they need.”
“They at least took that first step,” he said. “Many people will tell you it can take two or three times before they finally kick this thing, but if you don’t take that first step it’s never going to happen. I think we’re making good inroads.”
Continued funding of Kinship Care, a division of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services that provides aid for relatives caring for young children after a parent is unable to, will also continue to be a focus.
“This epidemic affects kids,” said Stein. “We have lots and lots of children who, unfortunately, have two parents involved with drugs. The idea of having them be able to stay with relatives and give them some monetary relief is a good thing. It’s a huge burden on a grandparent to suddenly take on a couple of young kids. If they’re willing to do that they’re worthy of this kind of help. This is also less expensive than just finding foster homes to put these children in.”
According to Policy Matters Ohio, a nonpartisan research institute, state aid to local governments has been cut by nearly $2 billion since 2008. In 2017, the group estimated that Lorain County lost $2.17 million in state funds.
A recent federal ruling deemed Ohio’s practice of applying a sales tax to Medicaid managed-care companies illegal, which amounts to approximately $200 million in lost state revenue per year. The new budget provides money to make up for that loss, which will begin to be paid out to counties in October.
“They’ve been taking money from the cities and counties for a long time,” said resident Daisie Reish, who attended the town hall. “Is this budget going to make these communities whole again? The governor is sitting on how many billions of dollars? Why is his method to take all of this money from cities and counties?”
The state has a $2.03 billion rainy day reserve fund, according to the Office of Budget and Management.
Reish asked how local governments are supposed to deal with ongoing budget crunches the cuts have contributed to and said emergency response entities shouldn’t have to worry about losing funding.
“You’re preaching to the choir,” said Stein.
He criticized Gov. John Kasich, saying he took dollars away from local governments, including safety forces. A recent effort to return $150 million to the local level was vetoed by the governor.
Stein advised Reish and all constituents to make sure they ask gubernational candidates about local government funding in 2018 when term limits will spell the end of Kasich’s tenure.
“Without the support of the governor, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “It’s just going to get vetoed.”
The Wellington Schools lost $210,000 in state funding when the new budget took effect — a four percent decline from last year.
“We were fairly happy in the end with what we ended up with in our district,” said Stein. “There’s also no doubt people want to see if we can come up with a more fair way to do school funding. It is a mess. We have all these caps and all these issues.”
Since 2011, Wellington has lost 222 students, about 11 percent of its enrollment. Ohio’s $1 billion charter school industry reroutes $2,000 to $6,000 away from public districts for each student who chooses to make the switch.
At the same time, state audits have revealed $27.3 million in what they consider improper charter school spending since 2001, which the Washington Post said is four times more than any Ohio public school district.
“If a private company wants public funds, they should be willing to open their books at any time,” said resident Mike Schneider at the town hall. “These schools aren’t doing a very good job either. You read about it all the time.”
Stein seemed to back the concept of school choice but said measures are being taken to make charters more accountable for their spending.
“There are bills in committee right now that are meant to help solve this problem,” he said. “The fact these are private entities makes it very difficult for us to force them to audit them or open their books.”
Residents asked why charters cannot operate like other private schools that charge their own tuition instead of being dependent on tax dollars.
“Charters are open enrollment and can’t deny people coming into their school,” said Matthew Noonan, a legislative aid for Stein.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.