Gov. Mike DeWine wants to see the state of Ohio invest more in public health initiatives over the coming years to impact the COVID-19 pandemic response and numerous other health needs.
DeWine rolled out his administration’s biennial budget proposal on Monday, which includes suggested funding amounts for all state agencies for the fiscal years 2022 and 2023. (You can read an overview of the budget proposal here.)
The governor’s budget proposes an increase in state spending toward the Ohio Department of Health, with investments in data reporting improvements, addiction services, pregnancy support and addressing social inequities of health care access.
Some of this money would benefit city and county health departments, which are mostly supported by local levies.
“One of the long term goals of our administration is to build up our local health departments,” DeWine said at a Tuesday news conference. “We’ve ignored public health in this country for too long. And if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can no longer afford to underfund public health.”
DeWine noted that departments have had a challenging time balancing COVID-19 contact tracing, testing and vaccine distribution, along with its normal services unrelated to the pandemic.
His proposal allocates $25 million toward improving public health data reporting, with a goal to “align” the record systems across the state.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of more accurate and timely health data to improve community health programs and protect Ohio lives,” a budget fact sheet reads.
The state is eyeing further changes to local health departments, with suggestions that some of them share services or consolidate with one another. There are 113 local departments across the state; most are countywide departments, but some cities additionally have their own. The budget proposal is offering money for departments to research and plan a merger with the hope of saving resources down the road.
DeWine’s plan also includes various investments to help pregnant mothers as well as an increase in funding to the Help Me Grow program, in which health department workers conduct home visits with families to provide parenting education.
There are continued investments into mental health support systems, nursing home training, lead hazard control and to RecoveryOhio, the state’s program centered on addiction services and harm reduction.
Will Ohio General Assembly agree with this public health funding increase?
State lawmakers are now reviewing this proposal and will negotiate budget legislation over the coming months.
Whether the Republican-controlled legislature will approve DeWine’s increase in state funding for the Ohio Department of Health remains an open question. The top Democrat in the Ohio Senate, Kenny Yuko of Richmond Heights, has already signaled his support for the increased spending and the party has generally backed the governor’s health-focused approach to the pandemic.
Republican legislators have been more critical of DeWine, the state health department and its leadership since the initial shutdowns were enacted a year ago. They have repeatedly introduced legislation meant to curb the health department’s authority. Bill supporters believe the executive branch has overstepped its boundaries in enacting and enforcing health orders, the violation of which can result in penalties for individuals and businesses.
DeWine pledged to veto any bill passed by the legislature which restricts his administration’s ability to aggressively fight the pandemic and limit the spread of COVID-19.
He’s issued several vetoes to this end, the most recent being in December to block Senate Bill 311 from becoming law. The bill, passed with only Republican support, would have given the legislature authority to vote down public health orders and would have prohibited the state health department from issuing widespread quarantine orders.
Republican state senators are trying again during the new legislative term with the introduction of Senate Bill 22. The bill would create a new legislative committee with the authority to strike down health orders, emergency declarations and executive orders. Its main sponsors say the bill is necessary to abide by the government’s separation of powers.