“I find it very concerning, frankly,” said Rep. Allison Russo (D- Upper Arlington). “I’m not sure that it is the best use of federal relief dollars; that’s a lot of money. It is a lot of money to be throwing at an approach that is completely untested. There’s nothing right now suggesting that that’s really going to move the needle on increasing the vaccination rate that we have in this state.”
“We have to stop giving away free stuff. We have to turn off the federal printing presses and stop giving away free money,” said Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton). “I just think it’s gimmicky.”
However, Cross and Russo disagree on the alternative ways that money the was given to the Ohio Department of Health by the federal government should be spent.
“We’re right in the middle of the budget process. There’s better ways that we can be spending that $5 million: for local infrastructure, our education system, our communities, our private sector, businesses that have been affected by COVID,” Cross said.
“I would like to see that money be used for things like let’s get vaccines out to places of employment, incentivizing employers, especially for hourly workers, to give them the time off, they need to both go get a vaccine, as well as if they’re having side effects to take a day off,” Russo said. “Getting vaccines into our primary care physician offices, where we know that doctors can be incredibly influential with people who have hesitations about vaccines, and getting them comfortable and answering their questions.”
Russo also raised the question of whether it was legal to spend the money this way. DeWine addressed that concern Thursday at a news briefing.
“Money was sent to the states with the specific purpose of helping us battle COVID,” DeWine said. “Being able to get more people vaccinated has a tremendous benefit for every citizen in the state of Ohio. It has a tremendous benefit particularly if people get the vaccine now instead of later. We’re effectively pulling them out of the group of people who can get it and the group of people who can in fact spread it.”
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost commented on the legality as well.
“At first blush, the concept does not appear to violate state law, though that will be dependent upon how it is designed. We will continue to review as additional details are made public,” Yost said in an emailed statement to NBC4. “Just because a thing may be legally done does not mean it should be done. The wisdom and propriety of this expenditure is a question for the Governor and the General Assembly.”
DeWine said he talked to Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman, and they did not raise any issues. The governor said the money has already passed through the controlling board and is with the health department.
You can watch the full, unedited interviews with Cross and Russo in the videos below.