FILE - Ohio State Capitol

The rotunda of the Ohio Statehouse in ColumbusOhio.

Increasing the hourly pay rate for direct support staff will help retain the talent necessary to care for Ohio residents in need, lawmakers working on the budget this week were told.

“An average hourly wage of $13 an hour, as proposed in the amended budget, will provide at least an incentive for our direct care staff to continue to support our loved ones,” Gary Tonks, CEO of The Arc of Ohio, an Akron-based advocacy organization for Ohio residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities, told members of the Senate Finance Committee.

“Many have never seen an increase in salary other than that required by increases in minimum wage,” Tonks added. “The proposed increase lets them know that they have not been forgotten and reinforces our belief that, yes, we as Ohioans do value you.”

The increased rate is part of House Bill 166, a nearly $68.9 billion, two-year state spending plan the committee is currently debating.

Senate Democrats previously said they planned to push for an increase in pay to $10 per hour for overnight on-call professionals and $15 per hour for direct service professionals.

The budget removes the income tax for Ohioans who earn less than $22,250 per year, and it reduces income tax rates by 6.6 percent for the remainder of Ohio’s residents. It also increases the minimum age to buy tobacco in the state from 18 to 21 years old, a move that drew support from Ashlie Kuehn, senior regional manager for Juul, an e-cigarette company, in written testimony to the committee.

Meanwhile, one of the highest profile aspects of the bill centers on school funding. The “Fair School Funding Plan,” a proposal to update the approach to how the state funds public schools, did not make the version of the bill the House passed.

But a committee developing the revised approach previously presented its recommendations to the Senate committee. The plan could require an additional $1.5 billion in taxpayer money.

“Our school and our community need your help,” Terry Armstrong, superintendent of Lordstown Local Schools, told members of the committee. Lordstown is home to a GM plant that is slated to close.

Lordstown schools are currently subject to a state funding cap. Of Ohio’s 610 public school districts, more than 500 are either “capped” and do not receive the full funding the current formula mandates or are on the “guarantee” and receive more funding than what the formula requires.

“The implementation of the ideas in the fair funding school formula … will result in Lordstown and other districts having a much more predictable and stable future,” Armstrong added. “The components of the plan, including elimination of the funding cap, will make a difference in our community and throughout the state of Ohio.”

The Center Square Contributor