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County Executive delivers State of the County address amidst recovery

Will Tarter
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May 24, 2021
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The 2021 Cuyahoga County State of the County speech was sure to be memorable due to the pandemic and its effect on county residents and the economy. That was indeed the case, as Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish presented the first-ever virtual State of the County address.

…the county devoted $20 million towards eviction protection and is looking to spend an additional $10 million, which should protect approximately 8,000 renters

Budish highlighted several important issues related to the county’s response to the pandemic. He mentioned how the county focused quickly on purchasing Personal Protective Equipment, and also undertook several other important actions to mitigate the spread of the virus, including housing homeless individuals at local hotels. Budish specifically mentioned successes in the county jail, as the jail population was reduced in half. While the county jail has faced pointed criticism for the treatment of inmates in the facility pre-pandemic, the county executive highlighted that there wasn’t one death in the facility due to COVID-19.

Budish also mentioned that the county devoted $20 million towards eviction protection and is looking to spend an additional $10 million, which should protect approximately 8,000 renters. Many of these dollars care from Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars. For additional information on how the county spent its CARES Act dollars, check out Community Solutions’ coverage here.

The county executive also mentioned the new diversion center which just opened up. The diversion center, operated by Oriana House, can provide treatment support for individuals suffering from drug abuse or mental illness for up to nine days. The county anticipates the diversion center will keep 500 individuals out of the jail system in the first year.

Broadband accessibility was another major part of the speech, with Budish stating that 18 percent of county families do not have access to internet. The county executive specifically mentioned a new program in East Cleveland, which will provide low-cost internet to 1,000 homes.

Racial equity was also a component of his speech. Budish cited the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 virus has had on black and brown residents. He mentioned the county’s increased outreach to underserved communities to offer better access to the vaccine, as well the county’s special emphasis on minority representation in the disbursement of small business loans.

During the question-and-answer portion of the program, questions were asked about a variety of subjects including community engagement, union labor, climate change, and future spending.

…18 percent of county families do not have access to internet

This was the sixth State of the County for Budish, and certainly one of the most policy-focused in terms of how the county responded to the unprecedented disruption to the local, state and national economies. Certainly, Budish is able to cite several positive examples of how the county has responded.

In many cases, the pandemic highlighted areas that were known problems, and brought major health and human services issues to the forefront. For example, the reality is older adults were disproportionately impacted by it. Many senior center officials are rightly concerned about the impact of social isolation on county residents. Mental health support services will be as important as ever moving forward to make sure that people have the support that they need to recover from an enormous national trauma. While the Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) board saw an increase in local Health and Human Services levy dollars due to the passage of Issue 33, it will be important for the public to hear how the county will approach mental and physical health protections for children and older adults alike.

Additionally, the pandemic highlighted the importance of essential workers, and the need for a strong health and human services safety net. Many services such as home health care and other home services continued, even through the duration of the pandemic. The Biden administration’s $2 trillion national infrastructure bill calls for increased spending on home health aides, many of whom are women, African-American and immigrants. The economic result of the pandemic has also created a labor shortage and has brought a sharp focus on livable wages that can support families.

The pandemic also highlighted how streamlining access to safety-net programs at the national and state levels can help ensure that people have access to food. One need not look far to see efforts at the Statehouse from some legislators trying to make it more difficult for people to access food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and unemployment insurance. Both of these programs are crucial to the health and human services safety net.

Several important capital decisions remain, including how the county will approach funding for major capital improvement projects at locations like such as the Justice Center, the Global Center and the Hilton Hotel.

One question during the Q and A, was about and plans for community engagement on how American Rescue Plan funds will be spent. This topic will be very important as the county receives $240 million over the next two years. The Center for Community Solutions will pay close attention to the issue and how the county uses data to track results, as was urged by the U.S. Treasury Department in the guidance.

While most events and presentations have been virtual during the pandemic, the electronic presentation format can be very helpful in terms of accessibility and community education. When the county budget process begins this fall, Community Solutions will keep a close eye on the process, as well as what metrics the county will use to measure success in the pursuit of a more equitable future.

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