Good morning advocates -- I hope you’re ready to help us fight a bill that would roll back civil rights in Ohio by 50 years.
House Committee on Financial Institutions, Housing,
Executive Director and Chief Lobbyist for the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio
Every two years advocates get together in Cleveland to strategise about the upcoming budget for the State of Ohio. The group has largely failed over the last two budget cycles, but they do eek out a few victories. On a cold snow filled Saturday at the NEOCH/Community Shares offices, advocates met to discuss areas that they felt were important. There was a good crowd who gave up their Saturday afternoon to plow through the details of the Ohio budget.
They gave a status report for the their successes/failures over the last budget. The only successes were that the Ohio Housing Trust Fund was not cut and there was a state earned income tax credit was created. The Homestead exemptions was targeted to those over 65 making less than $30,000. Medicaid was expanded, but over the objections of the legislature. Every other recommendation failed with one incompletion. Some of the fails from the previous year:
- Education funding is still below 2010 levels.
- Childcare still has a cap on family income below federal guidelines.
- Recommended changes in Kinship care were not addressed.
- Adult Protective Services to protect seniors is still woefully underfunded.
- Alzheimer's respite care is half of the level from 2011.
- They did not expand Medicaid to all of those eligible and reimbursable by the federal government.
- No relief for those receiving cash assistance to provide flexibility over massive elimination of benefits.
- Sought additional money for hunger programs. They received some additional funding, but not enough to meet demands.
- No additional funding for transportation.
- Huge losses to local government funding for trash collection, fire, safety forces and other local government services.
Some of the big issues that those gathered are looking for in the next budget for 2015 include:
- Re-establishment of the tax on rich people who die called the estate tax.
- Re-establishment of the local government fund to the levels from 2010.
- Expansion of a housing search website in the state of Ohio
- A complete overhaul of the tax loopholes in the state of Ohio.
- A lifting of the cap off the Earned Income Tax Credit. If you are poor and don't pay enough in taxes, you should still get all the tax credit back.
- Re-establishment of a foreclosure assistance fund since those federal dollars are drying up.
- A reduction in the welfare case loads.
- An elimination of the work requirements for Food stamps throughout the state and not just the nine rural communities.
- Maintain and expand Medicaid expansion.
- Align the state cash assistance rules with the federal requirements. With higher than average unemployment in Ohio, we should provide assistance to families struggling in Ohio.
- Restore funding to the PASSPORT and the hunger programs in Ohio.
- Force ODOT to spend 3-5% of their budget on public transportation to serve the 9% of the public without driver's licenses.
The progressives, advocates and concerned citizens will probably not be heard down in Columbus, but it is good to have a positive agenda put forth to help low income, homeless and struggling Ohioans.
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This week the Ohio Senate voted to eliminate the week in which citizens can register to vote and vote at the same time. They also have reduce early voting time and bar the local boards of election from opening on Sundays. We absolutely oppose this law and have posted this video and sent testimony down to the Ohio legislature committee (posted on our website as a pdf).
If we value democracy in America, then we should do everything we can to encourage voting and make it as easy as possible. This may mean paying for the postage across the United States to mail in your ballot. We should provide free rides to the elderly to get to polling sites in rural communities, and not suppress the vote by punishing urban communities for having as many hours as possible available at the one polling location to vote early. The large counties need more time to vote because we are forcing everyone to go to one location for early voting, and there are just not enough room in most urban Boards of Election to accommodate everyone interested in early voting. We saw lines of two hours in 2012 on the last weekend of early voting proving that Ohioans really want to vote and really like early voting. On the Saturday and Sunday before Election Day 2012, Cuyahoga County had lines of 45 minutes to one hour. We had lines out the door during the 2008 Presidential election even though we had an efficient and highly trained staff at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. We needed more time for early voting locations and a bigger campaign to encourage voting by mail. Limiting early voting in Ohio will only result in longer lines in Cleveland, Columbus, Youngstown, Dayton and Toledo.
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PS: Let us know what you think of the video since this is our first experiment with video on the site.
Thank you, Ohio legislators for protecting us from having to get up from our Playstations on the weekend to go vote! We are so glad that you are saving us from President Obama who spent time and resources in Ohio to open up weekend voting so that we will have less time to spend with our families on that weekend before the election in 2014. We "support" State Representative John Becker's effort to cut down on early voting because 35 days is just too tempting to try to vote multiple times with so many days available. Ohioans may vote the first week in October and then forget and try to vote again on Election Day. Why should we make it easy for people to vote? As Becker has stated he wants to make it easier for Boards of Election employees so they can focus on getting ready for the election. It should be a chore that is very difficult to accomplish with long wait times so that the "I Voted Today" sticker is a badge of honor. The sticker should be more of metal that shows the citizen did some work and planned for a long wait. They shouldn't just give those out to anyone who walks up to a table and marks a few chicken scratches on a piece of paper.
It was "chaotic" over at the Board of Elections office with hundreds of thousands taking advantage of the only weekend hours available in 2012. So, instead of expanding weekend voting it makes sense to just eliminate all early voting. Why else do we open our Boards of Elections offices for voting except to make it easy for those employees? We don't want to put any stress or pressure on these trained employees or the hundreds of temporary employees added for that month? After all, Becker was elected to represent the best interest of County employees as he showed in his consecutive votes to decimate local and county State funding. The pain of massive budget cuts will only make them stronger, but at least they won't need to work on the weekend of 2014. All county workers helping with voting deserve the same peaceful and quiet time of the employees of Becker's Claremont County board of elections. We should set voting hours and state wide voting policy based on what is best for the staff of the rural boards of elections in Ohio.
Thank you for protecting Ohio citizens from themselves who were confused about when to vote and went out by the thousands to vote early. We go to church or synagogue on Saturday or Sunday and we should only vote on Tuesdays. Thanks for making it harder for homeless people so that they see the value of voting since 77% of the people we registered in the summer of 2012 voted between Friday November 2 and Monday November 5, 2012. It is better to wait in an eight hour line like they did in 2004 in Oberlin and Wooster rather than wait in a two hour line like they did in 2012 in many big cities in Ohio, because you cannot really get to know your neighbor in only two hours. There are college and professional football games to watch on the weekend in October and November. Thank you Representative Becker for saving us from having to vote on the weekend. You really should think about running for governor since this legislation benefits all Ohioans, and not just those in your home community.
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The next Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meeting is May 6, 2013 at HUD (1350 Euclid Ave) in the US Bank Building lower level at 1:30 p.m. We will have the Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, Bill Faith who will give an overview of the state budget process, talk about some national policy issues, and the protection of the state housing trust fund. Bill is the leading advocate down in Columbus for the past 20 years on housing and homelessness. He keeps his fingers on the pulse of the Ohio legislature and can tell us how bad things will be for housing developers and homeless service providers over the next two years. Bill will be our only guest at this meeting so there should be plenty of time for discussion and questions. We hope that you can attend.
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Senators Durbin and Brown Host Hearing on Voting
We posted our testimony submitted to the US Senate regarding voting changes in Ohio here. We also have an entire section of voting on our website in order to educate our constituents about the new challenges to trying to participate in democracy for homeless people. The bottom line message on all of this is that homeless people need to vote by mail or vote at the Board of Elections early, and the best time is the five day "Golden week" in Ohio. Enclosed are some observations from the voting hearing held in Cleveland on May 7, 2012.
Senator Richard Durbin opened the hearing and explained that this is the third in a series of hearings. The first was in Washington and the second was in Florida. Republicans and the entire Ohio delegation to Congress were invited, but the only members of Congress attending were Senators Durbin, Brown, and Rep. Marcia Fudge. The hearing drew around 200 people in two different court rooms with local African American clergy and labor leaders heavily represented. Durbin made it clear that all of this was based on the fundamental right to vote as the foundation of democracy in America. He made it clear that he felt that the ability for women, African Americans, and those who did not own property was being harmed because of new rules in Ohio. He mentioned that even registration activities which had always been non controversial were under attack. In fact, the Boy Scouts and the League of Women voters in Florida and Texas had stopped registration activities because of the barriers put in place by those state governments.
The purpose of the hearing was to learn about the changes in Ohio and see if that will disenfranchise Ohio voters in the upcoming Presidential election. He said that 30% of the voters cast a ballot early either by mail or in person in 2010, and so he wanted to know why early voting was being curtailed in the legislation passed in 2011. He wanted to learn more about the challenges that were made in court to voting laws. He wanted to look at the activities of ALEC, a trade association, that has written many of these laws. Durbin wanted to hear from experts about why the voters of Ohio will not be allowed to vote the weekend before the election despite having 100,000 voters cast a ballot on the last weekend in 2008. Durbin was clear that he wanted to see the Ohio legislature to repeal HB 194 to reset voting rules to those the state operated under in 2008. Later in the week that happened, but activists were not satisfied because early voting on the weekend before the November election were not part of the repeal. This looks to be headed to court.
Sherrod Brown was next to talk and he emphasized the needless barriers that had been set up by Ohio legislators to voting. He spoke with some experience having begun his career in the 1980s as the Secretary of State for Ohio. [One interesting note: Brown as Secretary of State was the first Ohio elected official to recognize the problem of homeless people voting and set up rules for their participation in democracy.] He characterized the recent changes as "shameless attempts to undermine the vote." He indicated that the overwhelming evidence that voter fraud is almost non-existent in American democracy, and yet all these rules are pitched by supporters as attempts to reduce fraud. Brown characterized the clouds over the 2004 as one of process (too few polling places and non-working machines) and not problems with individuals fraudulantly voting. He specifically named the 9 hour wait at Kenyon College and six hour waits in Oberlin as examples of problems faced by his constituents in 2004. Brown said, "One political party is trying to undermine voting," and was specifically concerned that eliminating the ability to vote on Sunday undermines access to the ballot box by people of color. He characterized Ohio HB 194 as a solution in search of a problem.
Next to testify was US Representative Marcia Fudge who was concerned that her district and the voters living in her district would be most affected by the changes in Ohio law. She was proud that over 300,000 people in Ohio stepped forward to challenge these suppression activities. Fudge, an African American legislator, went further than Brown or Durbin in saying that all of these laws are an attempt to repeal the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s and have to be confronted for moving us back to the Jim Crow days. She was especially critical of the Ohio legislation that did not require poll workers to direct voters to the proper precinct. Fudge identified this provision as especially dangerous and could lead to a concerted effort to undermine an election by misdirecting likely Democratic voters to the wrong precinct thus spoiling all those ballots. She characterized all these efforts as making a mess of the rules in an attempt to confuse the voters.
Fudge identified 41 states now trying to pass laws that would restict the vote. She quoted Civil Rights leader and current Representative John Lewis as recognizing voting as "this right is almost sacred," and pledged that she would not allow it to be denied. She was ashamed of those who were trying to undermine the right to vote. Fudge cited only four cases of voter fraud in the last 10 years of voting in Ohio. [It should be noted that 3 of those were registration issues and not voting issues, which the Ohio legislation does not deal with]. Rep. Fudge was clear that all of this was just a way to confuse voters so that they did not vote. Rep. Brown agreed and wanted to know why the absentee ballot was the main of concern with regard to voter fraud and there was no legislation to verify absentee ballots? Senator Durbin wanted to know why Golden week was under attack. He specifically asked, "Who would take the risk of five years in jail for voter fraud," and why would you show up at the Board of Elections during Golden Week with 35 days for the Board members to investigate your ballot to assure that it is valid? This question was never answered by anyone on any of the panels.
The hearing continued with a second panel of experts, which we will cover in a later post.
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The Ohio State Legislators are taking up SB 295, the bill repealing HB 194, will be up for a committee vote (and probably headed to the Senate floor) on Wednesday. If you remember, HB 194 dramatically changed the voting procedure in Ohio. NEOCH and most advocates in the state opposed these changes, and helped to get the citizens of Ohio to be able to vote on this law.
Government Oversight and Reform Committee on March 21, 2012 at 8:30 a.m. in the Senate Finance Room.
NEOCH supports the overturning of this law, and hope that there is no replacement for 2012. We can work with both political parties on an overhaul of the voting procedures in a non-election year of 2013.
As of now, SB 295 is purely a repeal of the horrible bill passed last year (HB 194). There are no replacement measures contained within the bill. That doesn't mean that they can't amend the bill when it goes over to the House to include replacement measures meant to replicate some of HB 194's provisions. Even if SB 295 remains a purely repeal bill, it clears the way for the Ohio General Assembly to introduce another bill to once again consider more election law changes in the middle of an important election year. Advocates believe that the legislators behind the HB 194 do want to introduce replacement legislation.
NEOCH believes that this would confuse the voter. We also have a stake in keeping this law in place because any change would overturn our 2010 settlement. Would we be able to educate 88 County Boards of Elections before voting begins in October. We remember that there was huge confusion in both 2004 and 2006 when the legislature waited until the last minute to make changes in the process of voting in Ohio. If it is just this bill that passes, laws would remain the same. This is because of the heroic effort last year, led by Fair Elections Ohio, and contributed to by so many of you, to collect enough petition signatures to place a HB 194 referendum before voters in November 2012. However, SB 295 will undermine those efforts and Ohio citizens' constitutional rights to a referendum.
Through SB 295, Senate and House majorities are trying to repeal a bill they passed less than a year ago! It is also unprecedented in Ohio that the legislature would try to repeal a law that is under citizen's referendum. It is great that the legislature finally sees that HB 194 is not good for Ohio. It is also likely that advocacy groups such as NEOCH would challenge any changes in the law at this point. So why have the fight. Just repeal the bad HB 194 and leave voting law alone this year.
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