SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

August 27, 2012

OH removes 75K from “safety net”


State whittles thousands off welfare rolls

By Catherine Candisky

State welfare rolls continue to nosediveplunging by a third in the past year and a half — to the lowest number of Ohioans receiving a monthly assistance check in at least five decades.

About 75,000 have left the tax-funded safety-net program since January 2011. But it’s not a sign that times are significantly better in the Buckeye State. Most have been kicked off as the state cracks down on those failing to meet federal requirements that they be working or training for a job to get help.

“Right now, Ohio is the star of caseload decline for no good reason,” said Liz Schott, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Ohio is among 11 states that failed to meet work requirements for 2007, and one of three currently at risk of a multimillion-dollar penalty if they do not meet the goals. But none has slashed their rolls to the extent Ohio has.

In the 15 years since sweeping welfare-to-work requirements were enacted, Ohio has never been at the national forefront of caseload reduction, instead placing emphasis on trying to move recipients to self-sufficiency. But the state’s aggressive approach to dodging millions in federal penalties has raised concern about the fallout on vulnerable families.

  • “To take families having the greatest difficulties connecting to work and say we’re done with you, we’re not going to work with you, we’re going to cut you off, is walking away from the promise of welfare reform,” Schott said.
  • While Ohio’s economy has shown signs of improvement in recent months, advocates for the poor note that the poverty rate continues to climb.

“They are just tossing people off the rolls,” said Eugene R. King, director of the Ohio Poverty Law Center. “I don’t think for a minute anyone thinks there is a lower need for people needing benefits.”

  • Stepped up enforcement of work and training requirements came at the direction of state officials hoping to keep federal welfare funding. Ohio will lose $130 million unless, by Sept. 30, at least half of the adults on welfare, and 90 percent of those in two-parent households, are meeting the criteria.

The state is on track to hit the first mark but likely will fall short on the other, said Michael B. Colbert, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

As of June, the most recent statistics available, Ohio was just shy of the requirement with 49 percent of adults meeting work-participation requirements. But the state still has a ways to go in two-parent households, where only 52 percent met the benchmark. Both rates are up from 25 percent in December 2010, just before the push began.

“We have to make work participation in Ohio and we’re going to work like heck to do it,” Colbert said. “Hopefully we will be one of the first big states to meet this requirement.”

  • He rejected critics who say many recipients are being removed from the program unfairly and before they are able to provide for themselves.

“We’re not kicking people off. It’s a personal choice. If you are going to get cash, you are going to have to do a work activity,” Colbert said. “The original law was designed so you were on the program for three years and during that time you would get some job readiness skills or other help, not be at home collecting a check.”

Welfare recipients who do volunteer work or take a job-training course should have a better chance of meeting a potential employer or getting experience to prepare for a job than those who don’t, he said.

  • But some cut from the rolls tell stories about unbending rules and unrealistic expectations.
  • Kristy Harris, a 34-yearold mother of three from the Northwest Side, lost benefits less than a week after missing a resume and job-training session and being late to two job interviews.   “We had the church giving us money and paying our rent so we didn’t get evicted. We went to the food pantry, my mom and dad helped, and my husband’s mom and dad helped,” she said.   Harris went on welfare after losing a customer-service job for a car company in 2011. Her husband wasn’t working to care for their son, who has autism. They also have two daughters, ages 7 and 1.

“I called and told them but they changed offices and the paperwork got jumbled. I fell through the cracks.”   A legal-aid attorney got Harris’ benefits reinstated over a technicality. Her initial assessment with a caseworker was over the telephone, and Harris never signed her work requirement papers. She’s since found a job.

Franklin County has sanctioned more welfare recipients than any of Ohio’s 88 counties — more than 6,400 between May 2011 and May 2012.

Lance Porter, spokesman for the county Department of Job and Family Services, attributed the high number to the fact that Franklin County also has more recipients subject to work requirements than any other county.

  • “It’s not that we enjoy sanctioning and taking people off, but we have to catch the ones that are causing us to miss” our requirements, he said.    When the push first began, those who were sanctioned tended to “not show up at all” for training or work, Porter said. “Now it’s the little things, like falling a few hours short of the work requirement” or missing the deadline for submitting attendance records.

Julie Marquardt-Ambrose, 39, of Logan, got her last $355 monthly welfare check in May. Seizures and other ailments have long prevented her from driving or holding a job, but an exemption for hardship has allowed her to receive cash assistance beyond the three-year limit.

Still, Marquardt-Ambrose was told in May her benefits would end, leaving her and her husband with no income except his $115-amonth disability check. He has congestive heart failure and hasn’t worked since suffering a stroke several years ago. Both are seeking federal disability benefits, an application process that can take years.

“My daughter is 17 and we couldn’t buy her school clothes or supplies or the other things that kids have. We’re still trying to figure out a way to get these things for her,” Marquardt-Ambrose said.

They have paid little or no rent to their landlady for months, and a friend has covered their utility bills. He also lends them a car to get to doctors’ appointments and the grocery store, about the only times they leave home.

“We owed (him) so much money, we put the trailer in his name,” she said. “If it weren’t for him we’d be living on the streets. I understand the state wants us to work, but what if you can’t work? What are you supposed to do?”

(I can’t find words to reflect the  disgust and rage I feel over  the injustice of this despicable plight of our needy here in Ohio as it continues to escalate even tho our state has broadly done better than some others to stimulate its economy.     There can be no possible logic  which could account for  ignoring the needs of the needy and helpless.  What does Kasich etal expect them to do?  Is this the new American way?  Much on our minds as we head on towards November.    Jan)


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