January 31, 2024

Policy Matters Ohio in Action – Advocating for Equitable Health Policies in Ohio

Devonta Dickey, Communications and Marketing Officer at the Saint Luke’s Foundation, had the opportunity to speak with Hannah Halbart, Executive Director of Policy Matters Ohio to learn more about Policy Matters Ohio and some of their recent work to advocacate for equitable policies to improve our city’s health outcomes.


Devonta: What inspired you to join Policy Matters Ohio?

Hannah: I started working at Policy Matters in 2010 having spent a few years as a practicing attorney defending homeowners against foreclosure. Through the 2008 recession and the foreclosure crisis that wiped out so many Ohioans’ assets, I grew frustrated with the inability to really bring people justice thought the exiting policy framework. Through my education and career, I’ve tried to find ways to prioritize working toward greater fairness on behalf of and with communities on the margin. Growing up in rural Appalachia showed me how limited life and opportunity can be just because of some chance of birth- whether that be race, gender, inheritance, or just which holler you happened to be raised in. So, when I had the chance to join Policy Matters and write about policy impacts on people it seemed like the ‘stars had aligned’. I could bring my values and my frustrations with the inadequacies of Ohio policy together in a way that would help give more people a fair shot at a good life.


Devonta: Why do think it is integral for the community to stay abreast of the policies decided by our elected officials?

Hannah: The decisions made by our elected officials have profound effects on our everyday lives. It’s hard to cut through the political noise to get to the real policy questions that are being decided and sometimes intentionally obscured, but it is incredibly important to do so. For example, the state legislature is currently debating the budget bill. The bill (HB 33) includes salary increases (up to $18) for many segments of the direct care workforce. These workers often have wages so low they would need food assistance to make ends meet. Should this pass, that workforce would finally see a livable (or nearly livable) wage. It would also mean more people would be attracted to the career, and more people who need home care could access it. Plus, the workers would have more money to spend on the basics, helping out the local economy. The positive impacts keep rippling out from just one change. And just as there is a lot of potential for the state to make positive improvements for people, just as much potential exists to make decisions that will have harmful impacts on people’s lives.

Developing a rich civic life by learning about policy and the federal, state, and local legislative systems can also be rewarding on its own. Voting, making public comments, submitting letters to newspapers, or meeting with your elected officials is a way to feel connected to a bigger community and reaffirm that ultimately, power lies with the people.


Devonta: In your opinion, what is the most significant barrier to achieving health equity in the communities and/or constituents you serve, and how is Policy Matters Ohio working to overcome it?

Hannah: Racism and the intolerance of some people and decisionmakers, be it as an elected official, an institutional leader, or advocate to confront how racism informs policy decisions is a major barrier. From policy to the consumer or patient experience in the health care system, racism is impacting outcomes. Policy, programs, and funding decisions can’t be colorblind because our history and reality are not colorblind.

We have proposed that legislation, be accompanied by a “health note.” A Health Note is an analysis of the potential health impacts of the legislation, whether it’s investing in parks or expanding continuous Medicaid coverage to all kids under 6. The analysis would include impacts by different demographics and could intentionally tackle health disparities.

We are also working on how the staff understands, analyzes and incorporates race, equity and inclusion values in our own work and how we do our work. We have regular meetings to discuss and learn. During our staff retreat, outreach fellow, Bree Easterling, coined the gender, race, ability, equals equity (GRACE) framework-and we adopted the intersectional lens as a guide.


Devonta: Can you describe a specific project your Policy Matters Ohio took on, and how you were able to overcome any obstacles to achieve success?

Hannah: Policy Matters is working to make the state budget one that puts people first. We are working with lots of partners including local leaders in NOBLE to educate and advocate for better policies for their communities. In the last budget cycle, we worked with teachers, parents, researchers, and others who wanted fair and equitable funding for schools to finally, after 30 years of unconstitutional system, to pass legislation to change the rules. This new formula, when fully implemented in 2026 will send more state funding to schools that have less local tax resources, finally making sure that all kids regardless of where they live have a solid education.


Watch Hannahh Halbert of  Policy Matters Ohio giving testimony on House Bill 33 before the House Finance Committee


Devonta: Can you share a story about an individual or group that your Policy Matters Ohio supported that you think about to give you motivation to keep going in those moments when you feel discouraged?

Hannah: When I feel discouraged, I try to think about how the work I am doing is like planting a garden. We are sowing seeds and eventually the garden will grow. Policy change takes time.

For example, Policy Matters Ohio held a work and wages conference in 2019. At the conference the idea for a worker center was planted. Over time, the idea took root. Cleveland is now home to the Northeast Ohio Worker Center, that in partnership with the Guardians for Fair Work coalition, won a wage theft ordinance for Cleveland. The Center is currently working with many partners to do the same at the county level. This ordinance will ensure better enforcement of employment laws, so everyone who works is paid what they have earned.


Devonta: What advice would you give to other nonprofit leaders who too are in this space of closing health inequities or lessons you learned that you would like to share with nonprofit leaders?

Hannah: Ask Bold questions. Health equity will not come only from changes in the health care sector. Sectors that are not directly connected to public health policy or health care delivery are also implicated or impacted. For example, workplace discrimination or workplace norms that don’t encourage inclusion can be a considerable source of stress. Stress can be chronic and toxic. Chronic stress is a driver of health disparities. Asking questions about how we do our work can be transformational.


Devonta: How can others get involved with your organization?

Hannah: To keep up with Policy Matters sign up for our newsletter at https://www.policymattersohio.org/


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