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Group seeking help for kids on 7 key issues

The Ohio Children’s Budget Coalition released policy briefs making recommendations to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine about how to handle issues involving Ohio’s children in the 2022-23 budget.

“While children make up 22 percent of Ohio’s population, they represent 100 percent of Ohio’s future,” said Tracy N’jera, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio.

“As a coalition, we recognize that investing in a ‘whole child’ budget agenda is critical for Ohio’s continued success. It is critical that we do right by Ohio children in the upcoming state budget.”

The seven issues are infant and maternal mortality, summer food access, the earned income tax credit, child lead exposure prevention, equal access to child care and preschool, school funding and broadband internet accessibility.

MORTALITY

The death rate between 2012 and 2016 for pregnant women in Ohio was 19.2 out of 100,000 births, ranking Ohio 27 out of 47 states that report this data, according to the CDC, the brief from the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio states.

“Ohio’s Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Panel (PAMR) published a report showing that between 2008 and 2016, over half the deaths of women who were pregnant or who died within one year of pregnancy were preventable. The report also showed that black women died at a rate more than 2 1/2 times that of white women,” the report states.

In 2018, the black infant mortality rate in Ohio was 13.9 deaths per 1,000 births, compared to the white infant mortality rate of 5.4 deaths per 1,000 births, the report states.

To help reduce deaths, the report recommends the state offer pregnant women Medicaid coverage for up to a year so they can continue to receive services after giving birth; the expansion of Medicaid coverage to cover doula services, because evidence shows doulas reduce pre-term birth, cesarean births and increase positive outcomes.

A doula is a trained companion who is not a health care professional who supports another individual through a significant health-related experience, such as childbirth, miscarriage, induced abortion or stillbirth.

The report also recommends increasing home-based visiting programs; continuing to support pre-pregnancy, pregnancy and post-pregnancy services; expanding anti-racism training and cultural competency training in health care; and ensuring accessibility to the internet.

FOOD ACCESS

Ohio ranks 12th-highest for childhood food insecurity in the nation, according to the brief from the Children’s Hunger Alliance.

“Among some populations, as many as one in three children are food insecure. When these children lose access to their safety net of school breakfasts and lunches in the summer months, they are at greater risk of not having enough food to eat,” the brief states.

To help kids that depend on those meals, the brief recommends doubling participation in a federal program that reimburses the state for food programs, which would bring in $4.35 million to the state to assist.

And state officials should push to make permanent COVID-19 supports that allow the food programs to occur outside of a congregate setting, because the programs require the food to be served in congregate settings, which was an element of the rule suspended because of COVID-19, the report states.

The state’s congressional delegation should work with the USDA to expand summer food programs, the report states.

TAX CREDIT

“The federal Earned Income Tax Credit is the nation’s most powerful anti-poverty program. In 2016, it lifted 265,000 Ohioans out of poverty. In 2019, 887,000 Ohioans claimed the credit,” the brief authored by Policy Matters Ohio states.

“The EITC only goes to families with at least one worker that has earned income. The credit rewards work, reduces tax liability, helps financially vulnerable families and boosts local economies. It helps to offset the impact of Ohio’s reliance on sales and property taxes, which weigh more heavily on families of low income,” the brief states.

Children from families that claim refundable EITCs have higher birth weights, lower infant mortality rates, get better grades in school, have higher college enrollment rates, and earn more during their lifetime, the brief states.

“Ohio should put children first. Ohio spends tens of millions of dollars offering refundable credits to business owners and corporations, but none to working families. Ohio policy makers should strengthen the EITC to ensure it helps Ohio’s neediest families.

“Only a small percentage of Ohio’s neediest families are aided by the current state EITC.Recent changes to the state EITC added just $6 to the average value of the credit to Ohio’s poorest families,” the brief states.

Modest increases in the program would help many families, especially the poorest of Ohio families earning less than $22,000 a year, the brief states.

LEAD EXPOSURE

“Child lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain and nervous system damage, leading to learning and behavioral challenges, lower IQ, lower academic achievement, increased hyperactivity, emotional problems and future delinquent behavior,” the brief by Ohio Lead Free Kids Coalition states.

“Ninety-five percent of Ohio’s lead poisoning cases result from dust created by lead-based paint in houses built before 1978. Young children are uniquely vulnerable to lead because their rapidly developing nervous system has no defense against toxins. Thousands of Ohio children have already been poisoned and many more continue to be exposed to lead,” the brief states.

Between 2015 and 2019, 21,076 kids in the state tested positive for elevated lead levels, the report states. In 2019, 2.1 percent of kids tested had elevated levels.

To address the problem, the state should double the $20 million spent on lead control programs, put the Ohio Department of Health in charge of overseeing lead abatement programs and free up more state funds for lead poisoning prevention.

CHILD CARE

“Every child, regardless of race, class or ZIP code, deserves to be safe, cared for and educated. High quality child care provides care for our children and helps prepare them to be successful in school and their future. Child care also keeps our economy running and helps parents stay in the workforce,” states the brief from Policy Matters Ohio.

In Ohio, 26 percent of black children and 41 percent of all children start kindergarten ready to learn, the report states.

“When children have access to high quality early education, they are more likely to be ready to learn and grow when they enter kindergarten. This is critical because children who start behind often stay behind,” the report states. “A single mother of two earning $15 an hour spends half her income on childcare.”

To help, the state should at least protect current levels of funding for programs, expand eligibility for publicly funded child care to support more families so that a family of three making $43,440 or less would qualify, support childcare providers to improve their programs and consider equity between race, rural geography and age when evaluating programs, Policy Matters Ohio recommends.

“Now is the time for state lawmakers to fully fund an early care and education system that supports all kids, families and our state’s economy,” the report states.

“We need to build a system that offers high-quality care and education to children, is reliable and affordable for parents as they head back to work and offers a living wage for childcare professionals. Childcare requires investment, time, attention, and creativity to get through this crisis and help our state get back on its feet,” the report states.

SCHOOL FUNDING

Ohio still doesn’t have a constitutional way to fund public schools, states the report by the Ohio Education Association, though court rulings since 1997 have called for a revamp of the system.

“Despite numerous attempts to address Ohio’s school funding inadequacies, state leaders and legislators have failed to agree upon and implement a school funding system that meets the needs of all of Ohio’s students,” the report states.

The state should spent an additional $2 billion on public education over the next six years, fund private schools with additional funds instead of deducting it from school districts, create an independent authority to ensure changes are made based on evidence, invest in remote learning and invest in studies to improve funding for students in poverty, special needs students, gifted students and students who speak English as a second language, the report recommends.

BROADBAND

“Nearly one in eight families lack access to broadband. In Ohio’s nine largest central cities, about one household in five lacks basic internet service,” the report by the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio states.

“Among unserved rural households, 80 percent are in the hard-to-reach, rugged terrain of Appalachian Ohio. Even those with service often endure connectivity speeds too low and connectivity too unreliable to support distance learning, remote work, virtual doctor visits and essential business operations,” the report states.

“The problem is one of both availability — the inadequacy or absence of broadband infrastructure — and affordability — the inability of low-income households to pay for service,” the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio reports.

About 435,000 school-aged children, or one out of every four, in 2018 didn’t have broadband and / or a device to connect, the report states.

To address affordability issues, the state should subsidize the cost and appropriate $3.6 million to fund internet subscriptions, and use financing tools for further reach, the report recommends.

Investing $30 million in programs could bring in $200 million to aid the programs, the report states.

“The best way to address the inequitable access gaps in our broadband infrastructure — its affordability — is by making it accessible to everyone as an essential utility. A robust broadband network would boost our economy and ensure everyone had access to quality internet service at an adequate upload and download speed,” the report states.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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