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DeWine proposes new initiative for low-income families, but some question his timing

 Gov. Mike DeWine talking about his campaign in the Ohio Republican gubernatorial primary.
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Gov. Mike DeWine talking about his campaign in the Ohio Republican gubernatorial primary.

Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio's Republican incumbent running for re-election, is proposing a new initiative to help low-income mothers and their babies, which includes expanding Medicaid services.

The initiative comes as some voters who are upset with the state’s new abortion ban — which is currently on hold by a court — are considering their political options in November. The proposal itself, the timing, and its impact are factors being questioned.

DeWine's spokesman, Dan Tierney, said the "Bold Beginnings" initiative is something the governor has been considering for some time as part of his agenda to strengthen Ohio families.

DeWine's new initiative

Tierney said the initiative involves three different categories. The first category would expand Medicaid services for low-income mothers.

"You get more well-child visits, more prenatal care, et cetera. Additionally, the governor has proposed eliminating sales tax on a number of products for babies, probably most notably for families is diapers, disposable diapers, there'd be no tax on that," Tierney said.

He added that the third category is to make sure Ohio is a "model state" for employer benefits, "for expectant mothers and new mothers so the state has increased benefits to its health insurance plan and we seek to increase the amount of paid maternity leave that new moms get once they've given birth and had that child."

Unlike most of his other initiatives, DeWine didn't hold a news conference when announcing this one and Tierney said there won't be one.

"In part, because any press conference these days just tends to devolve into questions about Dobbs and abortion," Tierney said.

Abortion in Ohio

Earlier this year, DeWine told anti-abortion activists he would go as far as he could to outlaw abortion. But Tierney said DeWine's new initiative was in the works before the U.S. Supreme Court used the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in late June.

Ohio's abortion ban as early as six weeks into a pregnancy went into effect after that ruling. However, it is now on hold again due to another court challenge.

In the months that followed Ohio's new abortion ban, stories about women suffering pregnancy complications, and of a child who was raped and unable to get an abortion in Ohio made headlines.

As courts volley whether the ban can be reinstated, Ohio voters are considering whether the state, and the mostly anti-abortion Republicans who dominate every office in state government, should be re-elected in November.

Advocates react to new initiative

That's why some people, including Pro-Choice Ohio Deputy Director Jaime Miracle, questioned the timing of DeWine's initiative.

"To be honest, this is a too little, too late, election year stunt," Miracle said.

There were 21,813 abortions in Ohio in 2021, according to the latest annual Induced Abortions in Ohio Report from the Ohio Department of Health. That's a 7% increase over the previous year. Miracle said that's because women choose to have an abortion, a right she said should continue to exist.

"I'm not saying that these things that DeWine is attempting to do are bad things. We should be supporting families from beginning to end, full stop. But what I'm saying is these are not enough. These are not a replacement for abortion because if somebody wants to have an abortion, they should be able to get it in their community without judgment or delay," Miracle said, who supports DeWine's opponent, Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley.

Miracle suggested DeWine and other Republicans give families an earned income tax credit because that would provide more help.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said maybe lawmakers should look at giving families that tax credit. But he said DeWine is putting this initiative forward now because it will improve the health of women and their babies.

"You know there's never a wrong time to do the right thing and the governor, whether he has an election in two weeks, six weeks or never again, he's always stepping up to help women," Gonidakis said.

Gonidakis, who has been reappointed to serve on the state's medical board, said DeWine deserves credit for this initiative because it will help lower infant mortality in Ohio. And Gonidakis said the governor didn't have to do this to attract voters.

"He could have easily sat back and did nothing. It's not a close race. All of the polls show that. But what he did here was say 'what can we do better from a practical, common-sense perspective to help women?'," Gonidakis said.

Some of DeWine's initiative are already being implemented or expanded through existing programs. But many parts of his proposals, like expanding paid maternity leave for state employees from six to 12 weeks or increasing eligibility for state subsidized child care, will require the help of Ohio lawmakers.

There's no guarantee the legislature will pass the plan once they come back into session after the November election. Other proposals from DeWine, such as his 17-point gun reform plan, have stalled in the Statehouse.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.