The process of crafting the state operating budget is one that takes much deliberation, balancing the needs and priorities of all Ohioans. Per the Ohio Constitution, the General Assembly must pass a balanced budget to send to the Governor for approval. As a legislator and as Speaker of the Ohio House, my fellow members and I have to consider funds for things like public schools, health care, workforce development, and more.
In the current version of the budget for this biennium, the House Majority Caucus made our state’s drug and addiction epidemic a top priority, as it is the number one issue infiltrating our families, neighborhoods, and schools. With the leadership of Finance Chairman Ryan Smith, we have allocated funds totaling more than $170 million of new money towards combating the opioid crisis with a multi-faceted approach aimed at prevention, treatment, mental health care, and workforce initiatives. These efforts directly align with the HOPES (Heroin, Opioids, Prevention, Education, and Safety) Agenda, our policy platform for legislation addressing the many components of this epidemic.
The first step toward a solution is prevention. For this, the House plans to devote $12.2 million, including investments in innovation and technology, such as a 24-hour hotline, a new website, and a cell phone application, giving people who need help a way to reach out. Additionally, some of these funds will go towards “Start Talking!,” a program that teaches children to lead drug-free lives through an open dialogue. Prevention must take precedence in order to get in front of this epidemic, to keep future generations from succumbing to drug abuse and addiction.
In addition to funding prevention, $130 million will go towards treatment, with another $19.4 million towards mental health care. From increasing resources for transitional housing, stabilization centers, ADAMHS boards, the drug court pilot program, and more, we have put forth a great effort during a tight budget cycle to get those addicted the care they need and to provide an environment in which they can succeed. This epidemic affects all aspects of our communities—we considered the children, parents, and spouses of the addicted when allotting the state’s resources, which is why the House proposal pledges $30 million over the biennium for child protective services and also allocates funding for kinship caregivers. Our primary goal is to ensure families stay together while getting back on their feet, which we hope to achieve through greater access to various treatment and mental health programs.
The final section of this cycle out of addiction is the $9 million we’ve put towards workforce integration. When individuals have access to treatment and are able to get healthy, they need jobs, enabling them to be productive members of society and support their families. Even more importantly, a fulfilling job can help prevent a person from reverting back to an environment of drug abuse. With short-term certificates and workforce training, we can help many stay on a drug-free pathway.
I hear time and time again that the heroin and opioid epidemic is the most pertinent issue impacting Ohio. It’s time we take additional steps toward combating this scourge, because if not, the growth and development of our state is sure to be restricted. Through the current version of the state budget, we are taking those steps in the right direction, and I look forward to continuing this important discussion as the bill makes its way through the Senate.