COLUMN: Providing for Children and Family Initiatives in Senate's State Budget Plan
It has been said that the budgeting process is a process of allocating disappointment. While it is true that no one is ever completely happy, it is also a process, in essence, of appropriating funds that reflect the state’s list of priorities and I believe in this budget we are allocating hope, opportunity and key strategic investments.
On Tuesday, the Ohio Senate unveiled our substitute version of the $140 billion all-funds biennial budget.
While there are many priorities, I was honored to help shepherd through a number of important amendments - several of which are child-centric measures. In our Senate version of allocating finite, limited resources, we invested in a number of key areas for children and specifically at-risk children.
Major provisions for our children in the Senate’s plan include:
- We are helping Ohio families of multi-system youth and working to ensure families aren’t forced into relinquishment of custody to get their children the help and treatment they need. The Senate budget provides both intent language as well as $10 million over the biennium to assist families in maintaining custody of their multi-system challenged youth. No parent should ever have to make a heart breaking decision to give up custody of their child in order to obtain needed services.
- One of my priority pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 6, was also rolled into the bill allowing host family programs in Ohio such as Safe Families for Children to continue to provide services in Ohio. The goal of these charitable host programs is to strengthen and preserve biological families in a natural, community focused way. Families are being healed, strengthened and reunited because of these programs. We believe in second chances and hope for families, and I am excited to assist them in this budget bill.
- There are currently over 200,000 youth in Ohio living with grandparents, and many children living with other relatives on a temporary or permanent basis. The Senate substitute budget bill reinserted language creating the Statewide Kinship Care Navigator Program with funding of $3.5 million and the restoration of $15 million per year for the Kinship Care Program to provide assistance to kinship caregivers for the cost of raising a child. It is vitally important to keep children in a stable environment with family or a familiar non-relative.
- Another priority is helping families with food security. We gave an additional $5 million a year to food banks in Ohio. It is proven that children perform better in school, and life in general, when they are not hungry and have a reliable source of food.
- We also provided assistance to a number of other at-risk kids programming like Moms2B, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Big Brothers Big Sisters, to name a few.
- Additional support and $10 million for Quality Infrastructure Grants will be used to administer an early learning and development quality infrastructure program. The grants are to help consider the needs of applicants in satisfying Step Up to Quality requirements in early learning centers.
My amendment, assisting districts whose student enrollment has been growing in the last four years, was also accepted into the substitute bill. This enrollment growth supplement will provide an additional $38.5 million to rapidly growing school districts in Ohio.
This is the most pro-child budget I have seen during my tenure in the legislature. I am honored to have assisted on these and other measures that are important to Ohio families, children and some of our most at-risk kids.