This past spring, Cuyahoga County voters passed an increase as a part of a replacement health and human services levy, otherwise known as Issue 33. Approved with more than 70 percent of the vote, it was a statement by county voters on the high value they place on health and human services. With the approval, the county levy will bring an estimated additional $35 million into the Cuyahoga County Health and Human Services Levy fund. When combined with the other HHS levy, the two levies will bring in an estimated $279 million annually.
Now that the levy has passed, the new revenue will now start to come into the county beginning January 2021. The county will now begin a new phase in the health and human services funding process, where the county executive and County Council will deliberate on how to spend the new dollars in 2021. The decisions that will be made in November and December of this year, will be in place for all of 2021. The 2022-2023 county budget process begins in fall of 2021. It is important to understand this timeline and the implications of the fiscal decisions that will be made in the coming months, so that citizens and advocates may raise awareness of important issues that may need more support.
Issues such as food insecurity, rental assistance, and other HHS needs have taken on a new urgency.
During the Issue 33 campaign, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish faced pointed questions from news media and the public about what the county would do with the additional dollars, should the levy pass. The county had faced a number of high-profile incidents that showed that the Department of Health and Human Services needed additional resources. In addition, the HHS levy fund was facing a future multi-million deficit, because of increases in costs in foster care and aging among other issues.
Budish only speculated on what issues he would prioritize for spending with the new revenue, because the 2020-2021 county budget was passed without the assumption that there would be new revenue from an increased HHS levy. In fact, when the county budget passed, the county executive and county council had not yet agreed to place an increased levy on the ballot. During the campaign, Budish said that he would like to see spending increases in mental health, children’s services and senior services.
The conversations about how to prioritize spending will certainly take on a new dynamic, given that the county and country are in the middle of a pandemic. Issues such as food insecurity, rental assistance, and other HHS needs have taken on a new urgency. Although the county did receive $215 million in federal funding through the CARES Act, the county can only spend those dollars on coronavirus-related expenses. The county has spent about $85 million so far, the majority of which was spent retrofitting county buildings to include safety precautions upon reopening to the public. Additionally, the county spent money on things like personal protective equipment for county employees and emergency rental assistance. The county is holding back $100 million in case the federal government decides that those funds can be used to cover any budgetary shortfall. For the time being, however, the dollars remain restricted in their use. HHS levy dollars carry no such restrictions, and are frequently used as a local match to draw down additional state and federal resources for programs like homeless services and workforce readiness programs.
The county is holding back $100 million in case the federal government decides that CARES Act funds can be used to cover any budgetary shortfall not just those directly related to coronavirus.
County council hearings will likely be virtual for the foreseeable future, as well, adding an additional unprecedented aspect as to county budget deliberations.
Community Solutions will follow these budget conversations closely in the coming months. The hearing schedule is below.
2020 Mid-Cycle Budget Schedule
- Thursday, November 5: Deadline for delivery of budget materials to Council
- Monday, November 9, 1-3 p.m.: Strategic & detailed overview of budget proposal
- Tuesday, November 10, 5 p.m.: Introduction of budget resolution for first reading in Council
- Monday, November 16, 1-5 p.m.: Discussion of budget issues regarding HHS departments; departmental presentations as needed.
- Thursday, November 19, 1-3 p.m.: Presentation, discussion on, and adoption of substitute resolution and referral to Council.
- Tuesday, November 24, 2020, 5 p.m.: Second reading of budget resolution; adoption of additional amendments, if needed.
- Tuesday, December 8, 2020, 5 p.m.: Third reading adoption of budget resolution.