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State, federal lawmakers criticize Ohio governor’s vaccine incentives; say funding could be better used in other areas

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 8:28 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - State and federal lawmakers are criticizing Gov. Mike Dewine’s new vaccine incentives plan.

Dewine announced the plan Wednesday night.

Each Wednesday, there will be a drawing where each winner will receive $1 million starting on May 26 for five weeks.

Only people who have been vaccinated will be eligible to enter the drawing through a website.

It’s certainly out-of-the-box thinking and could convince more people to get vaccinated.

However, some lawmakers argue the money could be used more effectively in other areas.

For example, week after week, Cleveland families continue to get in line downtown for help from the food bank.

Throughout the pandemic, school administrators have voiced concern about students with limited internet access falling behind.

And, government workers have had to take furloughs because of budget cuts in the last year.

Those are just a few of the reasons why members of both parties are upset with Governor Dewine’s new lottery.

“The money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds,” Dewine said Wednesday.

Republican Representative Haraz Ghanbari is a member of the same party as Dewine.

“To use these dollars is not only unacceptable, it’s unethical,” Ghanbari said. “We as a legislative body need to be concerned about being good stewards of those tax dollars.”

Representative Jeff Crossman is a Democrat.

“Obviously we want people to be vaccinated and if it’s successful, I will be the first in line to congratulate [the Governor], but I am very skeptical that this public policy approach is one that we should be applying,” Crossman said. “It represents the worst of the type of things that people hate about government. We’re just simply throwing money at a problem and not really understanding whether it’s going to affect.”

The five million dollars that will be given out in one million dollar increments could be considered a drop in the bucket when compared to the 125 million an online state tracker says Ohio has already given in relief to small businesses or the 100 million that’s gone to helping schools operate throughout the pandemic.

But, US Senator Sherrod Brown told 19 Investigates on Thursday that essentially, money is money.

“I don’t think anybody in Congress intended the dollars to be spent that way,” Brown said. “But, I think if the governor has decided he wants to do it, he’s probably going to do it. But, I think there’s a better expenditure of that money.”

Ghanbari said, “I just believe there was many other ways we could capitalize on those federal dollars.”

“Whether it’s food assistance, assistance for medical care in underserved communities, these are all things we could have been using these funds for,” Crossman said.

The governor knew his decision would be controversial.

“I know that some of you are now shaking your head and saying, ‘That mike DeWine-- he’s crazy! The $1 million drawing of yours is a waste of money,’” Dewine said Wednesday.

But he maintains it’s not a waste, and that it’s the best way to eradicate the virus.

“The real waste at this point in the pandemic is that a vaccine is available to anyone who wants it. The real waste is a life that is lost now to Covid 19,” Dewine said.

Ohio is the first one to implement a lottery-based incentive program.

“No one has tried this, and we just thought it was worth to try this to do it,” the governor said.

The state of West Virginia is offering an interesting incentive, however. Anyone ages 16 to 35 who gets vaccinated gets a $100 savings bond.

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