March 26, 2020
A society is measured by its treatment of its most vulnerable, which includes the children who cannot vote, lobby, or have a voice in the halls of power. Today, we are in the midst of one of our nation’s most daunting challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the time for Ohioans to come together and figure out solutions to meet our challenges and a time for unwavering resolve and leadership in supporting our most vulnerable children and families.
Congress is in the middle of a difficult negotiation of how to address this threat and has the tools to alleviate pressures faced by each of the states. Ohio’s Governor, Mike DeWine, Lt. Governor, John Husted, and Dr. Amy Acton, Director of Public Health, are guiding our state through a time of uncertainty that will undoubtedly present significant demands on each of us.
At the federal level, the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio team and our partners across the country, are reviewing the federal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes:
- the first emergency bill passed on March 4, 2020;
- the Families First legislation, passed on March 18, 2020; and
- the Senate passed CARES legislation, which must now be passed by the House.
At the state level, CDF-Ohio vigorously supports the following steps that have and in some cases should be taken by our state to make a difference in the lives of Ohioans. What follows is a list of some of the top-line issues, however it is not exhaustive.
Preserving health care coverage for Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Ohio’s Medicaid Program
Ohio should continue coverage for all Ohioans currently enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program to ensure that no one enrolled in Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) loses coverage during the pandemic. The Ohio Department of Medicaid should not seek renewal and redetermination notices or checks while seeking federal approval for this change. The department should submit an 1115 and 1135 waiver to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand its pool of health care workers and also to expand eligibility for children and adults to the full extent the law allows. Our work should focus on making sure all Ohioans get the health care they need. CDF-Ohio supports the policy recommendations made HB 583, introduced by Representatives Russo and Liston, which waives certain Medicaid requirements during the pandemic and among other things, expands financial eligibility to 300% of the poverty level for children and 200% for adults.
Suspending application requirements for economic assistance and housing programs
Housing is a fundamental factor to maintaining an individual’s physical and mental health. Ohio should waive certain requirements for economic assistance and housing programs, affecting procedures for applications and interviews, verification, changes to existing applications and reporting. Suspending these administrative burdens will reduce barriers will reduce barriers for families applying for cash assistance overpayments caused by state, local agency or system errors. These changes will reduce the number of face-to-face contacts in county offices while making it easier for Ohioans in sudden financial crisis to receive assistance.
Prohibiting foreclosure activity and eviction of residential tenants during the state of emergency
Ohio should suspend foreclosures and evictions during the state of emergency to allow families and children to remain in their homes. Not only is this important to assist in efforts to contain the disease, but it prevents families and children from becoming homeless. HB 562, introduced by Representatives Leland and Crossman, and SB 297, introduced by Senators Craig and Antonio, would prohibit foreclosure activity and eviction of residential tenants during the pandemic emergency.
In addition, Ohio should allocate funding to homeless shelters and emergency rental assistance to help Ohioans living in shelters find permanent housing in order to reduce shelter occupancy and support social distancing public health measures during the pandemic. HB 578, sponsored by Representative Smith, is a step in the right direction. The bill makes an appropriation to support homeless shelters and provide emergency rental assistance in response to the pandemic.
Allowing foster care caseworker visits by video and supporting foster youth transitioning from care during this time
There are over 100,000 children living with adults and relatives in Ohio who are not their parents. Ohio must balance the needs of child safety and the requirements to ensure that social workers and case workers can conduct required visits while maintaining their own personal safety to contain and protect against the threat of COVID-19 community spread.
The COVID-19 crisis reveals the full extent of the holes in our social safety nets for children in the welfare system. It is imperative that Ohio address these gaps and act to protect our youth in the child welfare system.
All work and education requirements associated with the Bridges Program in Ohio should be suspended through September of 2020. All youth turning 18 and aging out of the system during this time should be automatically enrolled in the program. This will allow these vulnerable youth to maintain housing, health care, and access to their caseworker during this critical time.
Waiving work requirements for SNAP participants and other measures to increase food assistance
At a time when Ohio is shedding jobs at an alarming rate, work requirements simply do not make sense. We must make sure that every Ohioan who is hungry is fed. Adequate and reliable nutrition is the medicine that people need to be healthy and have the ability to fight disease. To ensure every Ohioan is fed, CDF-Ohio supports additional appropriations in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funding to the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, an increase to the SNAP benefit eligibility level, a suspension of all SNAP redeterminations, and a statewide waiver of all work requirements on Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) who receive SNAP benefits.
Supporting Ohio’s Students and Teachers
Ohio’s school accountability laws require all students across the state to take federal and mandated school tests. The results of these tests are used for everything from school district and building level report cards to other evaluative activities. Further, our state’s accountability laws set requirements for minimum instructional hours that a school district must provide during the school year. The Governor’s Order to close schools throughout Ohio forces schools and teachers to figure out distance learning and other approaches to assure that students are still receiving instruction. The educational plans in place and the infrastructure available throughout Ohio are not uniform and in many ways display the wide disparities in equity that exist throughout the state affecting our students who are low-income, lack technology access and support, and/or need special education services. CDF-Ohio supports recent actions taken by the Legislature in HB 197 to suspend testing and other state and federal requirements allowing schools and the students they serve to continue the school year and give them the space to figure out how to meet student needs first.