Ohio should spend ARPA funds on family vacations, prevent wage theft, criminal justice reform, says think tank: Stimulus Watch

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — As Ohio receives billions from the American Rescue Plan Act, one group believes they have the solutions for how best to spend the money.

Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit think tank, released the recommendations Thursday as local governments iron out ARPA spending plans and prepare to receive a second cash injection under the $1.9 trillion bill.

“Now that funds are pouring into our state, cities and counties, it’s up to our state and local officials to help all of us — no matter what we look like or how much money we have — so we all get back on our feet strengthened.” may emerge from this,” said Hannah Halbert, executive director of Policy Matters, in a press release.

Recommendations include providing bonuses for frontline workers, enforcing existing laws that prevent employers from stealing employees’ paychecks, providing public employees with paid family and medical leave, supporting low-income families and child caregivers to pay for childcare, criminal justice reform, fund training programs and invest in mental health resources.

The Ohio state government will decide how to allocate its $5.4 billion in ARPA funds, but cities and counties will also be responsible for smaller pools of funds allocated to them. According to cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer tally, cities and counties in Northeast Ohio are expected to receive approximately $1.6 billion in ARPA funds. While some cities and counties in Northeast Ohio have already decided what to do with the majority of their ARPA funds, others are still working out spending plans.

The recommendations also included ideas on how funds from the non-partisan infrastructure bill could be spent.

The left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio is joining several other policy groups such as the Buckeye Institute, Brookings Institution, Ohio State Resources Network and Center for Community Solutions to provide ARPA advice to cities.

Some of the proposals from these other groups have included replenishing the state’s unemployment trust fund, paying off debt, improving neighborhood pedestrian traffic, balancing local budgets, and more.

Policy Matters provided examples of other programs across Ohio and across the country that could be used as a basis for local programs.

One example was Franklin County’s RISE program, which provides “grants” of up to $10,000 a year to low-income families to fund child care. Another example was the Columbus program, which, according to the Economic Policy Institute, provides $1,000 in signing bonuses for childcare workers whose low wages are not always enough to make ends meet.

Northeast Ohio received a nod in the recommendations as the think tank cited Cleveland and Shaker Heights programs, which equip first responders with the training and resources needed to deal with mental health crises.

Sometimes Policy Matters’ recommendations are in line with what governments in Northeast Ohio are already doing.

Last year, Parma paid its firefighters a one-time pensionable payment of $3,500 from ARPA funds.

In other cases, governments in Northeast Ohio have backed away from the think tank’s progressive recommendations.

For example, the Cleveland City Council approved spending $386,000 on a SWAT vehicle and about $4.5 million on police surveillance cameras. Further south, Columbiana County received approval to expand its prison, according to the Morning Journal.

These more traditional approaches to public safety differed from the policy matters’ public safety proposals, which called for mentoring programs, drug-free programs, and increasing the state minimum wage.

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