Kasich’s funding for centers criticized

Addiction care will be left with shortfall under loophole, Democratic challengers say


COLUMBUS — Democratic candidates for Ohio governor and attorney general on Thursday accused Gov. John Kasich’s administration of saying the right things about battling addiction while also making an unnecessary “bureaucratic” decision that undermines that effort.

A change in the way the state will distribute federal aid to local addiction-treatment agencies beginning July 1 is expected to create a short-term funding hole totaling $20 million this year.

The Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board plans to step in to temporarily fill its own gap of roughly $1 million, thanks to a 1-mill, 10-year levy voters approved for the board in 2012.

“There are a lot of pressing needs when it comes to human services, and just because a county has a human services levy doesn’t mean that all of a sudden they have an endless pool [of money],” said Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who is challenging the Republican governor in November.

Because of the late receipt of the federal funds each year, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is shifting to a schedule that distributes the aid after it is received instead of distributing the funds and later drawing down the federal dollars.

To get the federal and state timetables in sync and to prevent future funding shortfalls for counties because of the inconsistent federal schedule, the state will distribute next fiscal year’s $62.6 million over 18 months instead of 12.

David Pepper, former Hamilton County commissioner and Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine’s opponent, accused the Kasich administration of fixing a short-term budgetary problem on the backs of people dealing with addiction.

“If you believe we’re in a crisis mode [with addiction] as they say they do, that would actually be the one solution you wouldn’t pick,” he said.

He suggested that the best option would be for the state to use its own funds to fill the one-time gap.

“The governor has been the single greatest advocate for this issue in recent memory and has been recognized nationally for his work,” said Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf. “In addition, just yesterday in Cuyahoga County an attorney from Mike DeWine’s office worked with the U.S. Attorney and indicted two heroin dealers. As the governor and attorney general are seeking results, their opponents are just seeking attention."

The state said a budget-related bill expected to come to a vote next week as well as anticipated savings from the expansion of Medicaid could provide some help to counties to fill the short-term gaps.

“It’s going to reduce our available funds for community services that will be replaced by local levy dollars," said Scott Sylak, executive director of the Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. “Once again it’s an over-reliance on local funding to shore up what the state has started. We're willing to do this because there are necessary services embedded with those dollars that are critical. Clients receiving those services should not be unduly impacted because of this funding change.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.