Gov. Mike DeWine proposes using $85M in federal COVID aid to help young Ohioans enter behavioral-health jobs

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday announced his administration he wants to use $85 million in federal coronavirus funding to provide scholarships and other financial assistance to students seeking to become social workers, therapists, addiction counselors and other behavioral healthcare providers.

During a news, DeWine and other state officials said Ohio has a conference shortage of such workers as demand for them continues to increase. The governor said one study showed that the demand for behavioral healthcare services increased 353% between 2013 and 2019, adding that suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death for Ohioans aged 10 to 64.

He said that the number of practitioners to address that demand had not kept pace, noting that nearly 2.4 million Ohioans live in areas with a shortage of behavioral health professionals.

“Clinical staff are difficult to find, easy to lose, and costly to replace despite the use of multiple incentives,” said Teresa Lampl, CEO of the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Services Providers.

With the $85 million, which still must be approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, students looking to enter the field of behavioral health would be offered scholarships, pay during internships, and have their licensure and exam fees covered, according to DeWine .

If approved, students could receive as much as $10,000 during their studies, then receive up to an additional $5,000 during their early years working in a behavioral-health job, according to Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. An initial survey found that at least 4,000 students would benefit from the proposal, Criss said.

DeWine said the $85 million is only meant to provide “short-term” help, though he said it’s just one part of his administration’s program to improve behavioral health and mental health treatment in Ohio. He cited his successful push from him to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on “wrap-around” support services for at-risk Ohio public-school students and $69 million to support crisis intervention and anti-suicide services (though the latter has no permanent funding source).

The governor proposed taking the $85 million from the $212 million available in the Ohio Department of Medicaid’s Home and Community-Based Services Workforce Development Strategic Fund, thanks to the federal American Rescue Plan Act passed last year.

DeWine, who’s running for re-election this year, criticized ARPA before Democrats passed it. But since the coronavirus aid bill passed in 2021, the governor has touted his plans to spend Ohio’s share of the money, which also include spending $1.5 billion to repay a federal loan to cover unemployment benefits paid during the pandemic; $756 million for local economic recovery initiatives, water and sewer grants, and pediatric behavioral healthcare facilities; $500 million to invest in Appalachian Ohio; $250 million in police grants; and $10.5 million to buy machines that can help solve gun crimes.

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