Young mother with a baby sitting on the floor and working. (Photo from Getty Images).
Gov. Mike DeWine’s office has released a set of initiatives it says will work to improve child outcomes throughout the state, if passed in the next state budget.
The “Bold Beginning” initiatives are broken down into “health care,” “family stability,” and “leading the way” categories, with a focus on health coverage for mothers and infants.
DeWine said he wants to “work with the legislature” to remove state and local taxes on supplies like diapers, car seats and “safety gear,” along with increasing access to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, a federal social safety net program that, along with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allow mothers and children to receive nutritional benefits at no cost to them, according to the initiative announcement from DeWine’s office.
The governor also said his proposal for the state budget would include “additional funding to ensure that public children services agencies have the resources they need to focus on a child’s best interest, to meet their increased demand.”
The announcement comes after a six-week abortion ban was implemented in the state that medical professionals said could worsen maternal outcomes, including for people of color. The abortion ban is currently on hold temporarily, as a Hamilton County judge decides whether the law should stay in place for good.
After the abortion ban was put in place, DeWine was questioned on the support systems for children already living in Ohio, a state with high infant mortality rates. He said the state had made “great progress” with previous implementation of programs under the “Bold Beginning” umbrella, despite data showing otherwise.
One point that is receiving particular support from child-care advocates is an effort to increase eligibility for Medicaid-sponsored health care for children and pregnant individuals, boosting the eligibility to 300% of the federal poverty level. That would set the income limit for a single pregnant person at $54,930 per year, or $69,090 per year for a family of three. The change would need the legislative go-ahead to move forward, but could be a big change for families in need.
“It’s working families that often have a hard time getting and keeping insurance,” said Kelly Vyzral, senior health policy associate with Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio (CDF-Ohio).
Vyzral was also encouraged by the inclusion of an increase of quality child care, which she says is “critical” for Ohioans wanting to rejoin the workforce after the pandemic or change in family situation.
“If you don’t have some place to take your child, it’s really hard to go back to a job,” Vyzral said.
Advocacy groups, even Ohio economists, have unceasingly pushed for better child care supports before, during and after the pandemic, as child care costs increased and often became prohibitive for families. It became a hot-button issue after federal child care tax credits were allowed to expire, leaving parents with renewed costs to help them get back to work and care for their children.
Most of the points released on Friday would be subject to General Assembly approval. Discussions on the budget aren’t likely to start until after the Nov. 8 general election, as the GA has made no plans to meet since leaving for summer break.
House Minority Leader Allison Russo released a statement just after the announcement of the initiatives came out on Friday, saying it was “nice that Governor DeWine is finally realizing the physical and financial pains too many hard working families across Ohio are facing.”
She pushed the Democratic agenda they hope will address maternal and infant health, but that will need Republican allies with GOP supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.
Certain programs are already being implemented or won’t require any kind of legislative or governmental approval, according to a spokesperson for DeWine, including making Electronic Pregnancy Risk Assessment easier to access, which the governor’s office said “helps providers determine if state or community assistance is needed to provide stable housing, home visiting, nutrition and education.”
The initiatives also want to expand “depression screening tools” and combine the expansion with a “statewide campaign to raise awareness about the importance of mental and emotional health of pregnant and parenting women.”
One missing piece to the initiative plan that Vyzral said CDF-Ohio plans to speak to the governor’s office about is a lack of continuous Medicaid eligibility for children, which would allow any children who qualified for the program at any age to qualify for the program automatically through age 6.
“So that, during those critical years, (parents) know they can take their child in to get their vaccines, to get the medical care they need,” Vyzral said.
Though the list of program plans and enhancements are encouraging, advocates are prepared to battle for the needed care. Vyzral said these are “common sense” concepts, but that doesn’t mean they’re a sure thing amid budget negotiations.
“There are a lot of legislators who have made it no secret that they are pro-life, and if you want to talk about being pro-life, this is pro-life,” Vyzral said.
Unsurprisingly, none of the programs or care access points mention abortion care or pregnancy termination of any kind. DeWine has stood in staunch opposition to abortion in the state, with an office for faith-based initiatives and numerous funding directives toward organizations who do not support abortion care.
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