Dec 17, 2007

Demand on food banks reflects lack of adequate benefits through “safety net” programs

The news has been filled with stories of food pantries and soup kitchens that are struggling to meet the growing problem of hunger. These groups are frequently staffed with volunteers and depend on donations. They deserve our gratitude. The growing demand on food banks reflects the failure of our elected officials to provide adequate benefits through “safety net” programs. What happened to the safety net of Food Stamps, Supplemental Social Security Income and TANF cash assistance? These programs were intended to meet the basic needs of low income citizens. It is extremely distressing to see that the official government policy for feeding hungry people is to rely on the charity of food pantries and soup kitchens.

Forty years ago the Food Stamp program was established to end hunger in America. Yet, it was only designed to provide 75% of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined necessary to meet minimum nutritional needs. Poor families were expected to make up the rest with cash. Unfortunately, that is nearly impossible for those who must rely on SSI or TANF. The payment levels for these programs are very low. It is difficult for these people to find extra cash to buy food when they spend every dime available for rent, utilities, and other essentials. As a result our food pantries must deal with constant demands from people who are already receiving help from the safety net.

This is unconscionable. This is not the Depression. People need to be able to get their food from the grocery store and should not have to wait in lines to get a meal or box of food. We cannot continue to rely on the kindness of volunteers and donations to meet a responsibility that we all have towards our less fortunate neighbors. We must insist that our government officials ensure that our safety net does its job.

Jack Frech, Director
Athens County Department of Job & Family Services
[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Dec 4, 2007

New report issued:

TANF: Failing America’s Poorest Children
by Athens County Job & Family Services
December, 2007

Executive Summary:
There are currently 5.5 million children living in extreme poverty in the United States. Extreme poverty is defined as living in a family whose income is less than 50 percent of poverty. The 2007 poverty level for a family of three is $17,170 annually. That means for a family of three living in extreme poverty, their income would be less than $8,585 a year.

These children live in desperate conditions of homelessness, unsafe housing, hunger and isolation. Their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and transportation are not being met, let alone their ability to be kids by participating in school or community activities. These children are isolated from society because they are poor. These families suffer, trying to make ends meet without the financial means to do so. As a result, many turn to the welfare system for help.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program has evolved from a safety net designed to help children and their families to one which insures their deprivation. This has happened in virtually all states at the hands of members of both political parties. TANF cash assistance caseloads dropped dramatically during the first years of welfare reform but have leveled off in the past five years.

There are currently 3 million children nationwide that receive cash assistance through the TANF program. States have the flexibility to design the program to meet the needs of their unique situations, yet are setting policies and issuing benefits that they know will not meet the needs of these families. Most state TANF programs, by design, restrict the income of a family to less than 50 percent of poverty. These children live in families who comply with all of the strict rules of welfare reform, yet the benefits they receive are too low to meet basic human needs.

The latest TANF reauthorization did not focus on the dynamics of why families are left on the cash assistance rolls, it focused more on paperwork. Instead of increasing maximum payment standards, states are choosing to spend less money on basic cash assistance and implementing new programs or increasing services through other programs like child care. Families who rely on cash assistance are desperate. Many cannot work or are struggling to find employment. Some are mentally or physically ill or disabled. Not that programs like child care or other support services for the working poor are unimportant; they are greatly needed. But families living at half the poverty level should not be asked to sacrifice their basic needs to support the working poor at much higher incomes. That support should come from those able to afford it.

Meeting basic needs for our most needy citizens should be the first priority for TANF funds, not the last. Now is the time to provide a decent standard of living for America’s poorest children.

Jack Frech, Director

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Nov 28, 2007

A Human Crisis Ignored

Our agency recently released a report regarding the huge backlog and denials for Social Security disability programs. While most of the report is based on the situation in Athens County, there is also evidence that the problem is pervasive throughout the state and the nation. The bottom line is sick and disabled people are not receiving the benefits they are entitled to, in a reasonable amount of time or, in many cases, not at all.

The majority of applications for Social Security disability or SSI are denied at the initial application. Upon requesting a review of their case by a hearing officer, those cases are then largely approved. In Ohio, the average length of time for a denied applicant to receive the opportunity for a hearing is almost two years. With a majority of those applying for disability assistance being denied, this clearly poses a huge challenge in protecting the well-being of our disabled population. One can not help but wonder why we are not able to do a better job determining eligibility accurately in the first place.

The Ohio Medicaid disability determination process utilizes the exact same criteria in determining disability as does the Social Security Administration, yet the majority of Medicaid initial applications are approved. While this process of determining eligibility takes an average of 120 days, they seem to be more likely to get it right than the Social Security Administration, which deals with their initial applications within 90 days. Perhaps if the Social Security Administration provided the same case management support and time frame utilized by Ohio’s Medicaid Program, we could take a step in the right direction to resolve this issue and cut down on unnecessary litigation.

It is of interest that a recent report issued by the USDA regarding Food Stamp recipients indicates that since 2000, the number of Food Stamp recipients with no income has more than doubled. Perhaps this has something to do with the disability applicants who are waiting years to get their benefits and living with no income in the meantime. It is difficult to do justice to the serious personal crisis that this poses for those sick and disabled people who not only wait months to get medical care, but perhaps years to get income support to meet their basic needs.

Is this the way we should or want to treat our sick and disabled people? Our federal and state representatives have known of this problem for years and yet nothing seems to be done to fix the situation.

We need to treat this as the human crisis that it is and react in much the same way as we do with natural disasters. We must use all the resources we can to fix this problem as soon as possible.

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Nov 19, 2007

The Deficit Reduction Act

The Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2005 was signed into law February 8, 2006. The DRA reduces direct federal spending by $39 billion for the five-year period of 2006-2010. The act saves nearly $40 billion over five years. This includes savings related to program changes that are required, as well as optional programs and initiatives that states may pursue.

Within the provisions of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA), Congress has provided several opportunities for states to help enhance the financial support available to low income families that receive child support. While considered a way of recovering money for the state when initially implemented, the child support program is now seen as an important and effective “family-friendly” financial support program. With so many families struggling to meet basic needs on a daily basis, Ohio needs to make the commitment now and enact these optional measures.

The DRA provides several important changes to how child support will be treated when a family is receiving cash public assistance benefits. The DRA requires that pre-assistance child support arrears will no longer be required to be assigned to the state upon application for assistance. Optional provisions contained within the DRA include changes in child support disregard and pass through rules, the ability for the state to release its claim in favor of the family to several types of arrears, and, perhaps most importantly, the ability for payments collected through the federal income tax offset program to be paid to the family first instead of the state.

Currently, as part of the application process for public assistance, the family must assign its right to receive child support payments to the state, as a way of reimbursing the state for the cost of the assistance. This assignment of rights includes assigning away the right to child support arrears that accumulated prior to the family applying for assistance. Under the DRA that assignment of pre-assistance arrears must stop. The option that the DRA provides with regard to pre-assistance arrears is the effective date for implementing the ban. The ban on the assignment of pre-assistance arrears must be enacted in Ohio no later than October 1, 2009, but can be enacted as early as October 1, 2008.

The DRA allows Ohio to disregard child support payments ($100 per month if one child and $200 per month if more than one child) when determining eligibility for cash assistance, as long as that child support is then passed through to the family. This disregard and pass through would allow a family to retain full eligibility for cash assistance and would enhance their monthly income by the child support collected. Currently, child support collected for a family receiving cash assistance goes to the government.

Other family-friendly options include modifying the distribution rules, so that more of the child support collected is paid to the family first, instead of the state. The most important of these options relates to the distribution rules surrounding money collected through the federal income tax refund offset program. Currently, payments received through tax refund offset are paid first toward any arrears owed to the state. Adopting the family-friendly option of paying those collections to the family first will be a tremendous improvement in Ohio’s support for families as the federal tax refund offset program is a significant source of collections on child support arrears.

The options provided by the DRA are significant and the benefits to the affected families are undeniable. The obstacles to enacting the various modifications to current policy have nothing to do with the obvious wisdom of enacting the changes. The obstacles relate to budget considerations surrounding the cost of foregoing the reimbursement provided by the child support collections and the cost of modifying computer systems.

Despite any costs, all of the available options should be enacted and implemented as soon as possible. Families with incomes low enough to qualify for cash assistance are struggling to survive on a daily basis (on less than half of the resources that we know they need to meet their most basic needs). These families need the extra support offered by the DRA now. It must be the highest priority to enact these options as soon as possible. Money must be found in the current budget. The survival of these families depends on Ohio becoming “friendly” now.

Sources/More Information
Dept. of Health and Human Services


[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Nov 2, 2007

The SCHIP Debate: Missing the point

Who are America’s poorest children? “A child living in extreme poverty is defined as a child living in a family with income less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold.”(1) The current SCHIP debate between the President and Congress fails to focus on the children living in extreme poverty. In fact, the programs intended to help these children are not enough to provide for their basic needs.

Under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, most states restrict a family’s eligibility for cash assistance to those living below 50 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). These families struggle to meet their daily basic needs. These children live in desperate conditions of homelessness or unsafe housing, hunger and isolation, just to name a few. Their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and transportation are not being met, let alone their ability to be kids by participating in school or community activities. These children are being isolated from society because they are poor.

America’s poorest children are those with little support. There are currently 3.1 million children living on the cash assistance payments under the TANF program, which varies widely by state. The current maximum benefit level for a family of three ranges from $923(2) in Alaska to $170 in Mississippi,(3) both remaining unchanged since 1999. The average amount of cash assistance a typical family of three receives in the United States is $432 a month. How many of you could pay rent, utilities, food, or even personal household items out of this amount? Sure, these families probably receive Food Stamps and Medicaid too. But, Food Stamps, when implemented, were never intended to meet the household’s full food costs. The maximum amount of Food Stamps for a family of three is $426 a month, but the average is more like $208 a month.(4) Even when combined, could you survive on $640 a month in cash and Food Stamps?

Just because these families likely qualify for Medicaid coverage from their receipt of cash assistance doesn’t mean we should ignore their most basic needs. Childhood is supposed to be fun; kids shouldn’t have to worry about health insurance, food, shelter, clothes or when they are going to move again. Unfortunately, families living at 50 percent of the FPL or lower have no way of protecting their children from those thoughts and ensuring a happy childhood.

This chart shows the current cash assistance benefit for each state and how it relates to the poverty level.

As one can see, these families live in desperate conditions, far below the 300% Medicaid expansion. A family of three living in Mississippi is at a meager 11.88% of the poverty level, while receiving only $170 in cash a month to survive. Twenty-one states give a family of three less than 25% of the poverty level. Just two states, Alaska and California, issue cash benefits to a family of three at slightly above 50%.

As one can see, these families live in desperate conditions, far below the 300 percent Medicaid expansion. A family of three living in Mississippi is at a meager 11.88 percent of the poverty level while receiving only $170 in cash a month to survive. Twenty-one states give a family of three less than 25 percent of the poverty level. Just two states, Alaska and California, issue cash benefits to a family of three at slightly above 50 percent.

What is the federal government doing to help these kids? Absolutely nothing. Why? Who knows? It’s not as though they don’t have the money; it’s already been issued to the states. But there is no federal oversight to make sure that states are focused on meeting the basic needs of our poorest children. States have the flexibility to issue cash assistance or other support programs, like child care and transportation however they see fit. Most states use only a small portion of their TANF funds to support cash assistance; only 38 percent nationwide.

Yes, it is a parent’s responsibility to care for their children. This adage makes no room for the scary possibilities that often become realities for families: job loss, disability, illness, economic downturns and other unforeseeable events that can devastate even the most economically stable families.

Families receiving cash assistance are means tested, put through a rigorous application process, comply with strict work rules, and they put aside their pride to even apply. These families want to work; they want to provide for their children.

Are the President and Congress ready to fight the same battle as the current SCHIP debate for our nation’s poorest children? How long do these families have to wait to put food on the table and a roof over their heads? These 3.1 million children living in extreme poverty as America’s poorest children need help now.

Tami Collins

1. Federal Interagency Forum on child and Family Statistics. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2007. Found at:, last accessed October 29, 2007.
2. Alaska Temporary Assistance Program. Income Limits and Maximum Payments. Found at, last accessed November 1, 2007.
3. Mississippi Division of Economic Assistance. TANF-Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. How much will the TANF payment be? Found at, last accessed November 1, 2007.
4. United States Department of Agriculture. Food and Nutrition Service. Office of Analysis, Nutrition, and Evaluation. Characteristics of Food Stamp Households: Fiscal Year 2006 Summary. September 2007. Found at:, last accessed October 29, 2007.

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Oct 23, 2007

SCHIP and Ohio's Poorest

SCHIP, established in title XXI of the Social Security Act, allows states to provide health care coverage to uninsured children up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). The stated intent of Congress when it established the program in 1997, was to expand coverage beyond those who were poor to "targeted low-income" children–-which meant those above Medicaid's eligibility requirements and in uninsured households up to 200 percent FPL.

Most recently the U.S. House and the Senate approved the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007 (CHIPRA), to reauthorize SCHIP. Under CHIPRA, eligibility would increase up to 300 percent FPL and would include expanded outreach to enroll those currently eligible but not enrolled. However, the act was vetoed by the President on October 3, 2007. The full text of CHIPRA is available here.
Note: in government definitions, generally “poor” is below the 100 percent FPL and "low-income/working poor" is 100 percent to 200 percent FPL. For more on poverty guidelines and measurements, click here.

Here’s a look at the Federal Poverty Levels are in terms of family size and household annual income:
People----100%FPL-----200%FPL-----300% FPL
----1-------$ 10,210-------$ 20,420-------$ 30,630
----2-------$ 13,690-------$ 27,380-------$ 41,070
----3-------$ 17,170-------$ 34,340-------$ 51,510
----4-------$ 20,650-------$ 41,300-------$ 61,950
----5-------$ 24,130-------$ 48,260-------$ 72,390
----6-------$ 27,610-------$ 55,220-------$ 82,830

When we look at this struggle over CHIPRA, we agree that no child should be without health insurance. At the same time, we are trying to understand why the country is not more focused on the basic needs of our poorest citizens first. We have many children and families living below poverty, and even with the help of public assistance programs, they are unable to meet their basic needs to live day to day. Shouldn’t our priority be to our poorest citizens first? Where is the time and energy to focus on those who have the least?

In Ohio alone, 130,000 children are on the cash assistance program, Ohio Works First (OWF), which is funded by the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (federal welfare dollars). A typical family of two on the Ohio Works First cash assistance program receives only $336 a month in cash and a maximum of $284 in Food Stamps. How many people do you know that can live on only $620 a month? This amount is $521 a month below poverty – around 50 percent of the FPL. This means that these families must make difficult choices between the necessities of food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and other basic needs.

In our report, Ohio’s Poorest Children, we analyzed the costs of the most basic needs for a typical family of two: housing, utilities, food, and transportation. Health care was not included since these families would be covered by Medicaid.

Monthly Cost of Basic Needs for Family of Two:
Rent $613; Utilities $227; Food $248; Transportation $250 = Total $1,338
Looking at the very basic needs, we came to a minimum of $1,338 per month. This total doesn’t even begin to factor in other basic needs such as: first aid supplies (band-aids, over the counter medicines), school fees, cleaning supplies, paper products (toilet paper, tissues), personal hygiene products (soap, shampoo, hair brush, tooth brushes, toothpaste, feminine products), clothing (socks, underwear, coats, shoes), diapers, unexpected emergencies and more.

(For an even more in depth analysis of poverty, take a look at our report:An in-depth look at the issues of poverty.

Shouldn’t meeting basic needs of our nation’s most needy people (children and adults) be the FIRST priority for funding at the federal, state and local levels?

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Oct 22, 2007

"Rural poor a growing problem"

A recent Columbus Dispatch article lists a number of statistics about the growing problem of rural poverty in Ohio, a trend that is mirrored--if not magnified--in Athens County.

According to the article, one in five Ohio residents lives in poverty. In Athens County, more than one in four does. (The individual poverty rate is at more than 27 percent in Athens County.)

Another piece of data highlighted in the article is that statewide, more than one third of students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. In Athens County in 2005, more than 40 percent of students qualified; in one school district the number was nearly 60 percent.

This is an excellent article for general information about the state of the rural poor in Ohio. For more information about the rural poor in Athens County, Ohio, see our Poverty Report.

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Sep 25, 2007

Worse than it seems

The recent Census report regarding income, poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States for 2006 got quite a bit of media attention. Yet, perhaps the least reported but most significant statistic is the increase in individuals who are living at less than 50 percent of the poverty level. Clearly, people living at this income level have a very difficult life, struggling to meet their most basic human necessities. When compared to the 2000 Census, there has been an increase in the total number of people, roughly 5.3 million, living below the poverty level. During the same time frame (2000-2006), there has been an increase of 3.2 million people living at less than 50 percent of poverty. This basically means that of the people that have fallen into poverty during these last six years, the fastest and largest growing segment, roughly 60 percent, has been those living at less than half the poverty level. The difference between a family living at less than 50 percent of poverty (less than $10,000 per year) versus a family under 100 percent ($20,000 a year) is huge. Obviously, all poor families are desperately struggling and are living in difficult circumstances. However, we are somewhat cavalier about the growing number of people that are living on less than $10,000 a year.

It would be difficult to deny that many of these families are in this desperate circumstance because of state and federal government policies which have drastically limited the assistance available to them. Families that receive Ohio Works First cash assistance, funded through the federal TANF Block grant, must have a gross income of less than 50 percent of poverty level in order to meet the initial means test for eligibility. Even worse, the cash benefits that we provide these families is only 28 percent of the poverty level. The Ohio Works First program serves over 120,000 children.

Furthermore, there is an increasing number of families who are not eligible for cash assistance due to time limits, sanctions and other program limitations. We are forcing more families to combine households just to survive. This increase in household size without an increase of income is driving more families to live further and further below the federal poverty level.

Other detrimental program policies include the failure of the federal government to resolve the eligibility problem for Social Security Disability and SSI. Currently, 70 percent of initial applications are denied and a majority of people must file for a hearing with an administrative hearing officer in order to have benefits established. The waiting time to get these hearings is frequently as much as two years. During that wait, many of these disabled individuals have no income whatsoever. This, coupled with the virtual elimination of programs in Ohio to provide any financial assistance for those individuals 18 to 65 without children, leaves a large number of people who are either forced to double or triple up in housing simply because they have no income.

The country was horrified to see families in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina who had no place to live, no food, no medical care and were struggling to survive. We are far less sensitive to the fact that we are driving more and more families and individuals into these similar desperate circumstances by design and choice rather then as a result of a natural disaster.

--Jack Frech

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Sep 6, 2007

The "type" of people who get public assistance

On Tuesday Casey Elliott of the Athens Messenger completed a three-part series delving into the lives of three families receiving public assistance in Athens County, Ohio.

There are about 1,400 people receiving such assistance in the county, and though this series featured only a few, it demonstrated an undeniable fact about the type of people who receive public assistance:

There is no "type" of people who get public assistance.

This myth about poor people--that they're lazy, unintelligent, uneducated, self-serving, or any other negative descriptor--is not only an inaccurate and unfair generalization. It's also, from what I've experienced and from what Elliott has demonstrated, usually the opposite of characteristics visible in those who've found themselves in poverty.

Countless unforeseeable events can and do lead intelligent, generous and hard-working individuals down paths that end in destitution. A serious injury, a plant shutdown, a sick family member or a house fire are just a few examples of extenuating circumstances that push families from "just making ends meet" to sucking up their pride and asking for assistance.

This is often the hardest decision the head of a household ever makes. Many view seeking public assistance as an admittance of failure, a recognition that they can't take care of themselves or their families. Would you be able to walk into Job & Family Services and ask for money? Would you be willing to jump through the hoops that welfare reform established, the work requirements and probing questions that are designed to prevent fraud but also make it extraordinarily difficult for deserving families to get assistance?

We at Job & Family Services see the faces of poverty every day, and can vouch that the circumstances that bring them to our door are numerous. Those who live in poverty do have some responsibility for where they are and where they’re going, but their situations aren't entirely within their control. Poverty has been pervasive in this region for decades, and the scarcity of good jobs, lack of affordable health care, limited education opportunities are just a few problems that fuel this persistent issue.

We applaud Elliott and the Messenger for putting names and faces to the often anonymous and overlooked poor families in Athens County. Her objective description of these families makes it a little more difficult for welfare opponents to make sweeping generalities of those on assistance that invalidate their needs and further stigmatize them.

Reanna Stoinoff, community relations intern

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Sep 4, 2007

Athens Messenger Features Public Assistance

Casey Elliott, a reporter at the Athens Messenger, began on Sunday a series of articles about people receiving public assistance in Athens County, Ohio.

Check out the first article

....and the second!

Finally, the third.

Let us know what you think!

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Aug 29, 2007

Back to school, but not for free

There is a long held myth in this county about the availability of a “free” public education. While it is true that many states have constitutions that require the availability of a free education, that is not true in all states. Ohio is one of the states that do not include specific constitutional language guaranteeing a free education.

In fact, Ohio goes a bit farther by actually having laws that permit schools to charge fees. Ohio simply regulates the type of fees schools can charge. It is therefore common for schools throughout the state to charge a “fee” of anywhere from $25 to $50 simply to attend school. Many schools also require that students bring in supplies ranging in cost from $10 to $50. These requests go far beyond simple paper, pencils, and crayons to include such items as tissue, plastic bags, and toilet paper. A family with two young children may have to pay as much as $200 to get their kids in the school door. This does not include the expense of school clothes, shoes or other personal items that a child may need.

While this expense is a hardship for many families, for some, it is a catastrophe. The truth is that there are hundreds of thousands of families in Ohio whose income falls below $12,000 a year. For those families, $200 represents twenty percent of their income for the month. I wonder if folks with a household income of $60,000 per year would be so willing to accept such fees if they were being asked to pay $1,000 to send their children to public school.

Fees charged by schools have become a perfectly legal and acceptable form of taxation initiated at the hands of the local school boards with few limitations or restrictions. These fees are also an extremely regressive type of tax, one that hurts those children in families who are already having the greatest challenges succeeding in school. Poor families are dealing with the day to day crisis of meeting their basic needs at home. Items like food, clothing, shelter, and transportation cannot be taken for granted in families living in the very lowest income levels.

It is these same children that already miss out on educational opportunities outside of school like vacations, educational toys and books. These same children are frequently precluded from participating in extra curricular activities in school. There are many people who are poor and are struggling every day just to get by. The last thing they need is another financial hurdle to overcome just to have their children participate in the local public school.

All children should be able to attend school and participate in school activities without needing to have money in their pocket. The concept of universally available education is one of the absolute cornerstones of our democracy. Education is intended to level the playing field for underprivileged children. Unfortunately, we are slowly but surely allowing one of our mainstream institutions, our public schools, to go the way of the “have versus have not.” To be sure, there are many schools that have chosen not to charge fees and have solved their financial problems without turning to this form of “taxation” on parents. Additionally, there are thousands of teachers who simply dig into their own pockets to help provide those supplies needed for children to participate in activities. All of this is unnecessary. Ohio needs to adopt the principle and practice of a free public education.

The average cost of education in Ohio’s K-12 schools is about $9,500 per child per year. The $100 collected in fees and supplies is roughly 1% of this amount. Perhaps the next increase in school funding could be targeted to eliminate school fees and pay for supplies. A “free” education would not be difficult to attain. The educational benefits to children in our society would be far greater than the minimal increase in funding that may be necessary to offset this loss of revenue.

--Jack Frech, director

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Aug 21, 2007

e-QuickPay Cards Begin to Expire

Child Support recipients who have not updated contact information will not receive renewal e-QuickPay Cards

Ohio’s e-QuickPay MasterCards, which directly deposit child support payments, will begin to expire this month,Ohio’s e-QuickPay MasterCards, which directly deposit child support payments, will begin to expire this month. Those whose addresses are not up to date with the Athens County Child Support Enforcement Agency may not receive replacement cards on time.

“We’re prohibited from forwarding these replacement cards, so if your address isn’t up to date you’ll experience some delays in receiving your new card,” said Randy Galbraith, director of the Athens County CSEA. He encouraged anyone who has moved since their last card was issued to call the CSEA at (740) 593-5046 to make arrangements to change current address information.

First implemented in 2004, e-QuickPay MasterCards are automatically loaded each month with child support payments and can be used as Debit cards at stores and ATMs. The State Office of Child Support offers this option to make accessing payments an easier, faster process. Guardians can enroll in e-QuickPay without having a credit check conducted and can then access deposits without having to pay check-cashing fees and without needing a separate bank account.

Renewal cards will be issued by the 20th day of whatever month is listed as the “Valid Thru” date on current cards. Cardholders can use current cards until the end of that month, and if they do not get a new card in the mail by the 20th, they should call the Ohio e-QuickPay customer service center at 1-800-503-1283.

Activation instructions will be enclosed with the renewal cards, and any current balances in child support accounts will not be affected by the card replacement.

The expiration of the first-issued e-QuickPay Cards falls in August, the month recognized statewide as Child Support Awareness Month. The Athens County CSEA has sponsored billboards and parenting-focused public service announcements and will continue to feature tips, data and suggestions based around the theme: “Child Support: It’s more than just money.”

The Athens County CSEA maintains approximated 4,500 cases each year and reported collections of more than $7 million during FY06. The agency also recently received an award for the highest percentage improvement for collections on current support among counties with similar caseloads in the state.

For more information about the Athens County Child Support Enforcement Agency, visit, or call (740) 593-5046.

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Aug 10, 2007

Child Support Awareness Month Parenting Tips

Throughout the month of August, the Child Support Enforcement Agency is trying to educate parents to improve their relationships with their children and encourage them to be responsible role models. Non-custodial parents certainly aren’t the only parents who can use this advice, however. Every parent in every situation can benefit from the tips we’ve gathered. If you listen to Power 105 in Athens or 107.7 in Nelsonville (or their AM affiliates AM 970 and 770, respectively), you’ve probably heard the public service announcements that assert: “Child Support: It’s more than just money.” Here are some of our top suggestions:

·Want your kids to respect you and others? Show them how by respecting them. Use their mistakes as opportunities to teach.
·You teach children not to call others names, so be sure you follow that rule, too. Never call your kids names, and watch how you interact with other adults in front of your children.
·Let your children know your love is unconditional. Praise them for their accomplishments and their efforts. Show them you’re there for them through failures and successes.
·Show your children you value them by giving age-appropriate responsibilities and showing your appreciation when these tasks are accomplished.
·Give your kids the opportunity to make decisions and try things on their own. This will give them confidence and help them acquire new skills.
·Parents shouldn’t fight in front of their kids. Protect your children from emotional violence just as you would any other violence.
·Children need structure, routine, limits and involvement from both parents. It makes them feel safe, secure and loved.
·Be interested in your children’s lives. Come watch their games and ask them about their day.
·Show your children affection not just when they are babies. Hug them and tell them you love them.
·PLAY with your kids! Don’t just watch them play. It will show them you’re interested in what they like, and you’ll have more fun, too!
·Make time to spend together, and also spend time with your kids individually. You will bond and learn to appreciate how each child is special.
·Listen to your kids when they talk to you. Stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, and listen. It will show them you respect them and they will learn to be better communicators.

Parenting—no matter what your relationship is with your children’s other parent—is the most challenging role an adult can have and comes with a lot of responsibility. If you have any words of wisdom that you think can help single parents or parents in general, or any other stories that go along with Child Support Awareness Month, we encourage your comments!

Also, here are some related links!
The Fatherhood Initiative
Athens County Child Support Enforcement Agency
Ohio E-Quickpay

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Aug 8, 2007

Child Support Awareness Month

The ACDJFS Child Support Enforcement Agency is participating in a statewide initiative to recognize August as Child Support Awareness Month. Athens County’s theme is “Child Support: It’s more than just money.” The agency has developed public service announcements, fliers and other educational materials to raise awareness throughout the county and encourage parents in any situation to take a more active role in their children’s lives.

“Both custodial and non-custodial parents should be involved in the actual parenting of their children as much as possible,” CSEA Director Randy Galbraith said. “Of course kids need food on the table and clothes on their backs, but they also need the confidence and security that comes with knowing both parents love them. We can’t enforce that kind of child support, but we hope that raising awareness this month will help parents see how they can be a bigger part of their children’s lives, no matter what the circumstances.”

The Athens County Child Support Enforcement Agency was also recently recognized for increasing collections on current child support cases for FY05-06 at the State Child Support Training Conference on July 30 in Columbus.

Athens County CSEA Assistant Program Administrator Susan Douglas accepted the award from the State Office of Child Support on behalf of Athens County CSEA staff, whose efforts brought about the highest percentage improvement for collections on current support among counties with similar caseloads in the state.

During FY05-06, the Athens County CSEA increased collections from 61.76 percent to 63.12 percent, collecting more than $4.4 million in FFY2006. The agency maintains approximated 4,500 cases each year.

In addition to collecting child support payments, the CSEA assists Athens County residents in locating non-custodial parents, establishing paternity, and establishing and enforcing child support orders.

Aug 1, 2007

Help is NOT on the way

On July 29, 2007, USA Today ran stories: Disabled worker cases at record and Disability delays can lead to personal havoc, about the lengthy delays individuals have to wait for Social Security disability claims. The articles included a list of the Social Security Administration offices with the shortest and longest average waits for hearings on whether an applicant is too disabled to work, which included on the longest waits: Columbus with 841 days and Dayton with 735 days.

In Ohio, this means an average wait of 2 to 2 ½ years for determination; one of the slowest states in the nation. Not only is this havoc for the applicants, but for their families, many of which have dependent children. Families waiting for Social Security determinations are forced to rely on cash assistance (Ohio Works First) benefits from the state in the meantime. But living on cash assistance in Ohio, means living well below the poverty level; and in Ohio, there is a lifetime limit of 36 months for cash assistance benefits – which is likely to run out before disability determination is made. A typical family of three receiving OWF benefits would receive a maximum of $410 a month (Federal Poverty Level for family of three is $1431 per month).

For these families life is a constant struggle to meet basic needs. In Athens County, nearly one-third of the adults receiving OWF assistance have some serious disability. And, their family struggles are further compounded by the fact that the one or more caretakers in these families are disabled and trying to care for children while trying to deal with their own disabilities.
From the article, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue says the backlog of cases doubled in six years and could reach 1 million by 2010. Clearly, no help is on the way.

Jul 23, 2007

Reforming Welfare Reform

With the passage of the most recent budget, Ohio has remained in a pack with a great many other states who have chosen to allow their poorest children to struggle to meet their basic needs. Most states have done little or nothing to improve the benefit levels they provide for those families left on public assistance. One has to wonder when we, as a nation, are finally going to decide to stop punishing those people who must depend on the state for assistance. Oddly enough, expanding subsidies to those with higher incomes for child care or Medicaid is not considered as extending “welfare." Certainly those recipients, at the higher income levels, are not treated with the same disregard as we do the poorest of the poor families.

When Congress recently re-visited the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program through its reauthorization process, they apparently concluded that the biggest problem facing poor people was that too many who were sick, disabled, mentally ill or suffering with substance abuse, were getting off the hook from the work requirements of the TANF program and changed the requirements to limit the time allowed to address these issues. Apparently they also felt that they didn’t have enough paperwork changing hands between the state and federal government regarding documentation of work program participation. Obviously, they felt these two things were going to make life better for struggling families who live on TANF assistance.

Oddly enough, Congress seemed to pay little attention to the fact that caseloads have dropped dramatically, as much as two-thirds, and people currently on assistance are likely to fall into one of two categories. Nearly half of them are in what is known as “child only cases” in which a child on assistance is living with someone other then their natural parent, usually a grandparent, aunt or uncle. The second group would be those families who have significant barriers to employment as a result of low functioning levels, mental health problems, substance abuse, criminal records and a wide range of other serious challenges. More specifically, there are thousands of disabled parents who are waiting years for approval of SSI and must rely on TANF cash assistance in the meantime. It’s not such a stretch to understand that when you take a significant portion of the poverty population and basically filter out those that are employable, those left will have much more significant problems that must be addressed if or before they can become gainfully employed.

The states did implement a wide range of job training programs, expanded health care coverage and child care subsidies, all of which have been very helpful in removing families from cash assistance and providing support for them in their effort to survive working poverty. But nevertheless, this current welfare population, which has been relatively stable in number, has little choice but to endure their dependence on public assistance to meet their basic needs. The majority of these recipients are children.

It’s time for the federal government to take a serious look at those families left on assistance and consider the need to completely redesign the public assistance system. They need to address those families who are having the most difficulty in functioning in the workplace and perhaps, most of all must deal with the fact that there will always be some families dealing with insurmountable obstacles who must rely on public assistance to meet their basic needs. The fact that most states are providing assistance at only half of the poverty level can only amount to state-sponsored child abuse. Again we must remember, the primary recipients of cash assistance through the TANF program are children.

--Jack Frech, Director

Jul 17, 2007

Letter to the Editor

Our first guest blogger is Kim Hobbs, a staff member at the Work Station. She sent in this Letter to the Editor to the Athens News. It was published Monday, July 16. We welcome your comments!

To the Editor:

Poverty definitely looks different today than it did when I was growing up. We were poor but I didn’t realize it. While we had toys, we spent the majority of our time outside creating our own “live” roll playing games, building forts out of sheets, having plays for the parents in our garage, and playing countless games of hopscotch on the sidewalk. These activities cost next to nothing. I did not have a TV in my room (remember having only three stations to choose from?), an iPod, a cell phone, Playstation, etc. A once a year trip to Geauga Lake and an occasional meal out at The Ground Round were luxuries. Today, most kids would be devastated to live this way. Believe me, I am as guilty if not guiltier than the next at spoiling my kids. We need to re-think our lifestyles and how we are bringing up our children.

Poverty is growing. Unfortunately, it is becoming a permanent part of our everyday structure. Food banks can’t keep up with the demand. Food stamp use has increased and while I applaud this assistance, it has also aided in creation a new “health hazard” for poverty stricken families. Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes have immensely increased over the years. Why? If a family of five has to budget $300 a month for food, how is it spent? Buying lean cuts of meat? Fresh vegetables? Whole grain breads? No: most opt to stretch their dollar. A package of hot dogs, buns, bag of chips, and a can of vegetables for dinner could cost a family of five approximately $4. It's cheap and quick but the salt, fat and lack of nutrition in a meal like this can be really detrimental to a family when it's the only thing they eat. Most wages are too low to provide adequately for a family and lead a normal economic lifestyle.

There seems to be a hardening attitude from people towards the poor. People are now tending to blame the poor for their situations. While I agree some take advantage of the system, I can guarantee you that the poor want nothing more than to change their situation. DJFS has made it harder to sit at home and collect the “welfare” check. Today, most recipients must perform some type of job training or labor in order for them to maintain their benefits. This is providing the unskilled with new founded skills to take with them to new jobs or education.

While I don’t think poverty can be eliminated, it can be reduced. As parents, we should all get back to the basics with our children. We need to teach them the importance of a good education and good family values. It is so much easier to agree with your kids when they ask for something that they don’t need than to say no and create an argument. As employers, we need provide wages and benefits to our employees that they can live on. As consumers, we should purchase good and services locally and reinvest in the local economy.

I truly believe that as a team we can work towards a goal of reducing poverty.

Kim Hobbs
Work Inforcement Act Social Program Coordinator

For some recent news/opinion in the Athens News regarding poverty and food, check out these articles:

Concerned about the rising cost of food? You better get used to it by Gwynne Dyer (Pub. 7/12)

Letter: Step into the shoes of someone who's poor to really understand by Missy Cangiamilla (Pub. 7/12)

Jul 5, 2007

Squeezing Blood from a Turnip, Part Two

As a follow up to the June 25 post, here's a little more information about businesses that target low-income families and potential alternatives that can save a lot of money. (For a recap of how we got on this topic, check out this Business Week article.)

Similar to a payday loan, instant tax returns from tax preparation companies can be an enticing and quick way to get back money. Low-income workers are often entitled to the Earned Income Tax Credit and can get a pretty substantial amount of money back—but if they get their refunds instantly rather than waiting a week or two, they can incur substantial fees. One available alternative for people who just need to file simple 1040 forms is the Athens Fast & Free Tax Assistance Center, operated by Job & Family Services. All Athens County residents, no matter their income, can get their taxes done for free from this service. With E-Filing, returns come back in as little as a week—and you get your ENTIRE return, with no fees deducted.

Another need that often arises in low-income families is for furniture and appliances. A $700 refrigerator is almost always out of the question when income barely covers rent and food, so paying $17.99 a week for a Hotspot refrigerator from Rent-2-Own seems like the only reasonable measure. Compare the refrigerator's posted retail price of $709.99 the total 78 weeks of $17.99 payments you'll make, though, and it's not so much of a deal: $1403.22. That's just under double what that refrigerator is worth.

Rent-2-Own's slogan is "Because we should all have nice stuff." This clearly encourages those who can least afford it to live beyond their means. Yes, in an ideal world, it would be great if we could all have leather recliners and dishwashers—but in the real world, where we don't all even have food on the table every night, it's ludicrous to encourage people to buy what they really can't afford.

The alternatives aren't always easy, but that's the way life is for low-income families. Thrift stores such as ReUse Industries and New to You are often inundated with furniture—especially futons, after the students move out at the beginning of summer. It may not be a pine bunk bed, but it's somewhere for your kids to sleep that doesn't come with the instability of a potential repossession if you can't pay the eight bucks in week 43 of your payment plan. Even local charitable organizations like Good Works offer—with limited resources, nevertheless—the chance for people to volunteer in exchange for furniture and appliances.

Computers are another thing people buy on payment plans at rental stores. Certainly an important tool for homework, job searching and other household uses in the modern age, computers don't come cheap. [Please see comments for a correction regarding this eligibility information. Thanks!]Job & Family Services offers FREE computers, to below households with children at or below 200% of the poverty level and be TANF eligible, which can also mean cooperating with CSEA or pregnant, along with training and a year's internet connection. Since its founding in 2001, the program has provided more than 2,000 computers to local households.

The BW article describes the increasing struggle low-income families are experiencing more and more across the country, and Athens certainly isn't immune from this problem. There are few easy answers for alleviating this problem, but it starts with a need for financial literacy and an increased awareness of just what strings are attached to seemingly great offers.

Jul 2, 2007

State Legislature Approves Ohio's Budget

With a nearly unanimous vote of approval, the Ohio legislature passed Governor Strickland's proposed budget for FY2008-2009. (State Rep. Diana Fessler, R-New Carlisle, was the only legislator to vote against the budget.)

Focusing on health care, education and a few other key issues, the new budget will certainly have a major impact at both the state and county levels for the Department of Job and Family Services as well as our clients.

Stay tuned for highlights of the budget as it relates to our department and those we serve!

In the meantime, here are a few news articles to peruse:
Akron Beacon Journal

Coshocton Tribune

Chillicothe Gazette

Jun 25, 2007

Squeezing Blood from a Turnip

In Athens as nationwide, companies are finding ways to squeeze blood from a turnip.

Previous entries have pretty thoroughly driven home the point that low-income families have to make a lot of difficult decisions on how to spend their money. This constant position of never adequately meeting all of a family’s needs, often coupled with inadequate financial literacy, can make a tough situation increasingly worse. Unfortunately, when money runs out before the next paycheck or paying eight bucks a week for a children’s bunk bed seems the only reasonable solution, there are many companies that are all too eager to help low-income families part with their money.

An interesting article in the May 21 issue of Business Week describes a number of types of companies that target low-income consumers, including payday lenders, car dealerships that offer credit to anyone, rent-to-own furniture and appliance stores, and high-interest credit card companies. Credit is becoming easier and easier to obtain, but it often comes with interest rates that at times might as well demand your firstborn child as part of the payback.

Payday Lenders
In an area with such high poverty rates as Athens County, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that many companies fall into these categories. On East State Street alone, there are three payday lenders and two rent-to-own furniture and appliance stores (a fourth payday lender is on Columbus Road.)

Of course, payday lenders and rent-to-own stores aren't charities and shouldn't be expected to operate as charities. And sometimes, unexpected expenses arise that require people living paycheck-to-paycheck to resort to companies like this—indeed, a payday loan might be a lifesaver once in awhile. But frequent use of services like this can turn those who have very little money into those who have a great deal of debt. "Unsophisticated" consumers, as the Business Week article refers to them, might not understand interest rates or realize just how much debt they are incurring.

For the purpose of this example, take local payday lender Advance America Cash Advance, located at 971 E. State St. The company's online fee schedule indicates that if you borrow money from them, you're going to pay about 15 percent in fees. If you borrow $250, you cut the company a check for $287.50. To their credit, the company's Web site. explains that this shouldn't become a habit:

"Since a payday advance is a short-term solution to an immediate need, it is not intended for repeated use in carrying an individual from payday to payday. When an immediate need arises, we're here to help. But a payday advance is not a long-term solution for ongoing budget management. Repeated or frequent use can create serious financial hardships."

That's where financial literacy and common sense should come in on the part of the consumer, but circumstance doesn't always allow for that. And taking $37 out of an already meager paycheck every week just because you can't afford to wait for it can cost you substantially.

...Stay tuned for: Tax preparation and rent-to-own appliances and furniture!

Jun 21, 2007

Budget Blues: Shortcomings of Ohio's proposed budget

The new state budget includes some program expansions and improvements that will be very beneficial to struggling Ohio families. An increase in the income eligibility for Medicaid to 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level will help thousands of uninsured children. An increase in child care provider payments will help many deserving child care providers. Expanding child care subsidies and early learning programs for families up to 200 percent of the poverty level will be a great benefit for children and their parents. Subsidies for food banks, home energy assistance and a variety of special earmarked programs will provide valuable resources for low-income Ohioans. With the support of the governor and the General Assembly, life will be a little better for many Ohioans.

But there is another side. Who lost so these programs could grow? Unfortunately, lawmakers have chosen to help the needy at the expense of the even more needy. While expanding eligibility for Medicaid for children up to 300 percent of poverty, the General Assembly rejected the governor's proposal to restore eligibility for the parents of children between 90 percent and 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. While they'll offer assistance to children in families making more than $50,000 a year, they deny help to parents making less than $15,000. I'm not sure why lawmakers imagined that the children in families below the poverty level don't suffer when parents can't get health care or are forced to pay out of pocket and face destitution.

All of the child care and other program expansions were funded out of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families block grant. While they are all beneficial, these expansions do not resolve the most severe problems that the lowest income families face. Families who must rely on TANF cash assistance are forced to live on an income of only 50 percent of the FPL. Ohio has consistently chosen to provide a grossly inadequate benefit level despite a wealth of available TANF funds. The first priority for the use of TANF funds must be to meet the basic needs for our poorest children--and they are not doing that. Ohio's poorest families will pay so those with more resources can benefit.

My concern is not whether the program expansions are needed or worthy. They are. However, it seems that the less fortunate have been forced to continue to suffer in order to pay for these expansions. Unfortunately, this decision was politically easier than asking those who are already comfortable to sacrifice more.

Jun 20, 2007

Thanks, athensi!

The Job & Family Services blog has just been added to a great online resource for local news, both from traditional news sources like the Messenger, as well as a number of other bloggers. Check it out!

We haven't gotten much of a response regarding food stamps and what you'd buy with them yet, but we'd still love to hear from you. Also, if you're a volunteer or employee at any food banks or other organizations that provide free food to low income families, is the article from the Athens News pretty accurate regarding increased demands? Is it harder over the summer with children home from school? It would be a real eye-opener to hear from people that experience it every day.

One last quick note regarding free food is that the Athens County libraries will be serving free meals to children under 18 as well as adults with mental and physical disabilities all summer long. Meals will be provided at Glouster, Nelsonville, Chauncey and Coolville branches. The announcement in the Messenger last Wednesday didn't go into much detail, but if you want more information, click here for the library's contact information.

Jun 19, 2007

Another food pantry accepting donations...

Our sincerest apologies for overlooking another food pantry that would be grateful for your donations as we continue to explore the issue of hunger among Athens County's poorest folks:

Athens County Food Pantry

This pantry provides food boxes and Seamans vouchers to families who call the Athens County Foodline (1-800-338-4484), as described in our first post about food stamps. They're always in need of food and financial donations, so call the number listed above if you'd like to make either!

Jun 14, 2007

The Food Stamp Challenge—Part 2

Until significant changes are made, those in need will have to continue to rely on a strained support system and find whatever resources they can to supplement the $25 per week. Below is a sample of what someone might choose to buy, and along with that, here’s a challenge: the next time you’re grocery shopping, figure out how you would spend $25 to feed yourself for a week and send us the list with prices. (Post them in comments.) While you’re doing that, find a couple things you’d want to eat that you wouldn’t be able to afford on this hypothetical list, buy them and drop them off at a food bank. They’ll be much needed and much appreciated.

For $25, a week of (not necessarily balanced, or particularly filling) meals:
*Note—these prices were quoted at Athens’ local Aldi store on June 12. As their Web site states: "Aldi is an international retailer specializing in a limited assortment of private label, high-quality products at the lowest possible prices."

-Bologna:$.99 for 16 servings
-Canned chicken breast: $1.69 for 4 servings
-Canned chicken broth: $1.17 for 3 cans

-Skim milk: $2.61 for 1 gallon/16 servings
-American cheese slices: $.79 for 12 slices
-Eggs: $.89 for 12
-Margarine: $1.29 for 3 lbs

-White bread: $.49 for 22 slices
-Tortillas: $.89 for 36
-Rice: $.99 for 30 servings
-Potatoes: $1.99 for 10 lbs./about 20 potatoes
-Egg noodles: $.69 for 6 servings
-Quick oats: $1.49 for 30 servings
-Macaroni and cheese: $.58 for two boxes

-Dry pinto beans: $1.19 for 25 servings
-Onions: $1.29 for about 5
-Bananas: $.35 for about 6
-Fresh carrots: $.49 for 5 servings
-Canned green beans: $.78 for 2 cans, 2 servings each
-Canned corn: $.78 for 2 cans, 2 servings each
-Canned carrots: $.78 for 2 cans, 2 servings each

-Salt: $.33 for one canister
-Garlic powder: $.99
-Ketchup: $.99

Total: $24.52

Here is a list of local food pantries that accept donations: (They also accept monetary donations to buy what is most needed.)

HAPCAP Southeast Ohio Regional Food Center
1005 C.I.C. Drive
Logan, OH 43138
(740) 385-6813

Friends & Neighbors Community Food Center
2808 Sixth Street
Coolville, OH 45723
(740) 667-0684

Glouster Community Center Food Pantry
3 Front Street
Glouster, OH 45732
(740) 767-3829

Kilvert Community Center Food Pantry
21120 McGraw Rd.
Stewart, OH 45778

Salvation Army Food Pantry
1 Townsend Place
Athens, OH 45701
(740) 593-7082

The Nelsonville Food Cupboard
83 West Washington Street
Nelsonville, OH 45764
(740) 753-3810

Let us know what you would buy with $25/week, or if you receive Food Stamps, what you do buy!

Jun 13, 2007

The Food Stamp Challenge—Part 1

Beginning the week of May 15, four members of Congress, including Ohio’s Representative Tim Ryan (D), learned what it was like to try to survive on food stamps for a week. (Read a Washington Post article about this experience.)

The four had $21 each, which they spent at a Safeway near Washington, D.C. They stuck to purchases such as bread, pasta, spaghetti sauce, and peanut butter and jelly. An eye-opener for these lawmakers as they introduced legislation to increase the food stamp budget in the upcoming Farm Bill, this week of poor nutrition and frequent hunger pangs certainly drew attention to the growing problem of food-stamp inadequacy. (Tim Ryan’s blog,Rep. Jim McGovern’s (D-Mass.) blog.

Nationally, according to the Washington Post article, about 26 million Americans receive food stamps. Locally, here’s what that translates into for Athens County:

Last year (FY2006: July 2005 through June 2006):
-An average of 6,614 people per month received food stamps.
-Their average allotted spending amount was $99.82 per month, which is about $25 per week.
-Food Stamp recipients don’t actually get Food Stamps anymore. The Ohio Direction Card, which works like a debit card, has replaced food stamps and removed some of the stigma attached to getting public assistance. They can be used at most local grocery stores.

Other food stamps considerations:
-ONLY food is allowed to be purchased with food stamps. Some examples of excluded items (imagine living without them): toilet paper, napkins, tissue, sanitary supplies, soap, shampoo, dishwashing soap, laundry supplies, diapers.
-Because $25 per week is often inadequate to feed a family member, families often must turn to food pantries to get supplemental food. Job & Family Services operates an Emergency Food Line in conjunction with the Athens County Food Pantry Board that allows qualifying families to receive one box of food along with a few dollars per person in food vouchers every 90 days. ($10 for a family of one to three, $20 for a family of four to six, and $30 for a family of seven or more.)

A growing trend continues to drive home the point that Food Stamps scarcely provide families with their basic needs. A "§ion=news&story_id=28408" target="_blank">recent article in the Athens News reported that local food pantries are running low on provisions to hand out as demand increases.

Four members of Congress took a weeklong challenge to get an idea of what it’s like to live on Food Stamps. It was certainly an admirable attempt to empathize with their constituents and understand what changes must be made, but the issues surrounding hunger in America are far from over.

Since their inception, Food Stamps have been intended to provide only 75 percent of the necessary food to individuals, based on the Thrifty Food Plan set by the USDA; they are expected to pay out-of-pocket for the other 25 percent. However, low income eligibility requirements to qualify for Food Stamp benefits pretty much guarantee that these people have no other resources to turn to. This is a catch-22 that needs to be addressed, because it is leaving millions of Americans—including children—hungry and undernourished.

Jun 12, 2007

Testimony Before the State Senate

On May 31, director Jack Frech testified before the Ohio State Senate on behalf of OWF recipients. Below is his testimony:

There are 130,000 children who must depend on the Ohio Works First (OWF) program. There is no state policy that is more intentionally harmful to children than the decision to force these children to live on an income that we know will not meet their basic needs.

An average family of two on OWF receives $336 in cash and $284 per month in food stamps. This combined income rises to only about half of the federal poverty level. Life for these families is a constant struggle to find enough food and to keep a roof over their heads. Over half of the OWF caseload is made up of 'child only' cases in which the grandparents or other relatives are the caretakers.

Why do I say intentional?

We know these families have no other resources. They must follow all of our eligibility rules and work requirements. We have more than ample funds to offer a decent level of benefits and yet we simply choose not to.

We spend a great deal of time and money to prove that these families are poor. With over $300 million dollars budgeted for entitlement administration and over $100 million a year spent specifically on eligibility determination, we are sure that these folks are poor. There is probably no other financial eligibility system that is as detailed or closely monitored than Ohio’s welfare programs.

Welfare was "reformed" ten years ago. It is complete with time limits and work requirements. It was supposed to satisfy our concerns that welfare be limited to only those who are "deserving." Those currently receiving OWF assistance must comply with all of the program rules.

The most obvious example of our intentional mistreatment of these children has been the way Ohio has dealt with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. As the name implies, the first goal of the program is to support children in their own homes. Ohio has under spent its $1.14 billion TANF budget in almost every year for the past eight years. We accumulated the largest unspent balance of TANF funds in the nation with balances usually exceeding the $728 million federal annual TANF allocation. During this time, we have routinely spent only a third or less of the TANF budget on OWF cash assistance. Even with the Governor’s proposed $10 a month increase in benefits two years from now, the portion of TANF funds spent on cash assistance will drop to 22%.

Every year we devise a TANF spending plan that is supposed to spend down the balance. Most years, we simply don’t spend the money. Other years we have used the funds to replace state General Revenue Fund (GRF) dollars. This has relieved some of the budgeting stress on the administration and legislature at the expense of these poor children. It should be noted that supplanting of state and local funds is not permitted by federal rules and those same rules also limit the use of carry over TANF funds to cash assistance.

Governor Strickland, with the support of the Ohio House of Representatives, has chosen to spend the carry over TANF funds on an increase in childcare provider payments rather than addressing the critical problem of inadequate OWF benefits. All of the Governor’s plans for improved early childhood education and child care will have little effect on children living in families without sufficient food and with constant stress to pay for basic shelter costs and other necessities.

I could say that most people can’t imagine what life is like for these kids and their families. But the truth is, we spend a lot of effort to know exactly what life is like for them.

So I repeat: There is no other state policy that is more intentionally harmful to children than the low level of OWF cash benefits. It is time to take our foot off the necks of these poor families and their children.

We must provide a significant increase in OWF benefits.

--Jack Frech, Director

Jun 7, 2007

A big hole in the safety net: Ohio’s TANF funding, Part 7

The final words on this topic belong to the people on the receiving end of cash assistance, because it is their lives that this meager investment affects to such a great extent. In March, we surveyed recipients of OWF and asked them what they’d do if they could get an extra $100 a month in TANF funds. (A bill introduced by State Representative Jimmy Stewart (R-92) last year would have provided this additional assistance; it was dismissed.) We heard back from dozens of recipients; excerpts from some of the most telling responses are below:

“Right now we get $410 a month and the bank takes $5 out to cash it and $400 goes straight to my landlord. So my family is left with $5.”

“$100 a month doesn’t seem like much to very many people. It does to my family and myself...I could have good roofing nails put in my roof to replace the old used ones, so maybe my roof wouldn’t leak as often. I could save and maybe have struts put on my car, then it won’t scare me when the kids ride with me. $100 could do a lot to make our lives a little nicer and even safer.”

“A trip to the zoo wouldn’t be out of the question. It’s not much fun telling your child maybe next month we’ll be able to afford it, knowing that we won’t.”

“We have to plan only the most necessary trips to town or school in our car. We have to wash clothes by hand in the bathtub instead of going to the Laundromat. I’m always scared that I’m not going to be able to keep the electricity on. My son is a freshman in high school and he’s an excellent student with perfect attendance. It breaks my heart when he feels my despair and I wish that life could be a little more fun for him.”

“My husband is disabled and I’m medically not allowed to work. With the amount of money that we get from the state, I can’t pay all of the bills. With rent, water, trash, gas, phone, electric and car insurance, we come about $200 short every month. And that doesn’t include the extra food that we have to buy with cash because the food stamps aren’t enough to feed four people fully.”

“I face utility shutoff every month. I receive $336 a month; my rent is $300 and that is the cheapest I can find. That only leaves me $36 to pay utilities and buy diapers for my two-year-old son.”

“If I had another $100 dollars I could at least fully pay my rent. My rent is $425 a month and OWF sends me $410. My rent does not include utilities and I have two small children, ages 3 and 3 months. My car needs fixed and I can’t afford a babysitter. I struggle every month, thinking that month my kids and I may not have a roof over our heads. The stress of no money makes it hard to see the little things in live anymore.”

“We are raising our three granddaughters on what my husband gets from SSI and the $410 from OWF. $100 may not seem like a lot, but it would help to get the girls clothes and shoes when they need them.”

“I struggle with keeping my baby in diapers and having enough money for bills and rent. My baby goes without diapers sometimes because I have to pay my rent and bills so I’m not homeless with four children.”

“I could buy more healthy food for my children.”

“To some people $100 is nothing. My family struggles every day to pay bills, put food on the table and the extra money would help. I have a child in kindergarten who always needs something for school. Her father works but doesn’t make enough to support a family our size. My kids are always in need of something and I hope you realize how this would help our families and our kids. I feel bad for receiving any kind of help from welfare but we do try to provide—everyone has a hard time once in awhile. Please, don’t let the children go without. Help us get by a little better.”

Jun 5, 2007

A big hole in the safety net: Ohio’s TANF funding, Part 6

The proposed budget

The Administration has indicated that their rationale for not providing a decent increase in the level of public assistance is that OWF children will be receiving other services that will somehow help compensate for the fact that they do not have enough money to meet their basic needs. A review of the governor’s budget proposal would indicate that there are several areas in which families may receive some additional help.

The largest increase in the governor’s budget for TANF is going to a fee increase for child care providers. They will receive an increase of 11 percent, beginning this May. This will increase the average payment per child from approximately $400 to about $440 a month. Only about 25 percent of OWF children receive child care assistance. Those assistance payments are made directly to the child care provider and not to the OWF family. While increasing these provider fees may be very well warranted, it does not help OWF families pay their bills and put food on the table.

The governor’s budget also calls for expansions of the Early Learning Initiative (ELI) and other child development activities. All of these activities are already available to OWF families; however, none of these programs provides any assistance to help these families meet their basic needs. Though these development activities can potentially do a lot of good, participation levels are low. In the face of possible eviction, empty dinner plates and spotty employment, it is difficult for families to find the time or energy to focus on learning activities. Recent studies regarding the long-term effects of child care on the developmental abilities of children have determined that the quality of life within the family is a more significant determinant of success for children’s development than is child care or any other activity.

Another issue that has been raised regarding the potential increase in OWF benefits is “sustainability.” There is no doubt that the TANF block grant is a fixed, limited amount of money. Even with the huge unspent balance of funds(about $403 million was unobligated before the new budget proposal), there is obviously a finite limit on how many activities can be funded through this source. It is ironic that the issue of sustainability seems to be raised more often with issues such as providing direct cash assistance to families than it does for the wide range of other services funded through TANF dollars.

In reality, cash assistance accounts for only about 25 percent of all TANF funding, despite the fact that meeting basic human needs should be the first priority for these funds. There must be a serious discussion about what the priorities for TANF funding should be as we move forward, and it should involve a discussion of the full range of services currently funded.

There is no less guarantee of “sustainability” for kinship care or child care than there is for cash assistance. For the past 30 years, while many social services programs have come and gone, we have always provided cash assistance to low-income families (albeit at an inadequate level.) It is also true that during that entire 30-year span, and in the face of serious budget challenges, no governor or general assembly has ever actually cut the level of benefits for the assistance being provided through the OWF or the former Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) program. It is highly unlikely that cash assistance benefits would be cut in the future. In fact, it is far more likely that it would be some of the other wide range of TANF-funded services that would be in jeopardy. Perhaps this is why there has been so little support throughout the human services community for an increase in public assistance benefits. Despite a lack of support, the obvious fact is that an increase in cash assistance is necessary and would improve the lives of Ohio’s neediest children.

--Jack Frech, Director

Jun 1, 2007

Response to Athens TANF Question

In response to a question sent by one of our subscribers, here are the figures for Athens County's OWF (Ohio Works First) recipients for the same time period, December 2006: (The original post that originated this question.)

(Click on the table to view it larger.)

As you can see, the majority of OWF cases in Athens county are actually both Adult and Child Cases. Our Child-Only cases are only 32 percent of our total caseload, compared to the state average of about 52 percent.

Thanks for your question, and keep them coming!

A big hole in the safety net: Ohio’s TANF funding, Part 5

Additional benefits that OWF families may receive

Most OWF families are also eligible to receive Medicaid and Food Stamps. County Job and Family Services offices offer a wide variety of emergency and employment support assistance through the Prevention, Retention and Contingency (PRC) program, based on each county’s individualized plan.

Fewer than 7 percent of OWF families receive subsidized housing assistance.

Families with children under the age of five and pregnant women may receive help through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. The average benefit is $34 per month and goes toward nutritious food.

The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) offers financial aid for heating costs. The average benefit is $296 per heating season. The Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) offers low income consumers of regulated utilities an extended payment plan to reduce the high cost of energy during the heating season. There is no subsidy in the program and low income families participating are over $530 million in debt to utility companies in electrical services alone.

There are a number of local services such as food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters intended to provide help in “emergency” situations. Unfortunately, many OWF and working poor families have been forced to rely on them on a regular, recurring basis. Only about 25 percent of OWF families receive child care services. While beneficial, these services can’t bridge the gap between OWF benefit levels and the basic needs of these families.

--Jack Frech

May 30, 2007

A big hole in the safety net: Ohio’s TANF funding, Part 4

Determining eligibility

The state spends millions of dollars determining eligibility for OWF. Ohio has one of the most sophisticated means testing systems in the country. Families are screened through a centralized computer system. Computer matches are run against other financial database systems as well, including reports of new hires from employers. Social Security, Internal Revenue Service, Unemployment and Workers Compensation benefits and banking records are all cross matched with public assistance data.

Recipients are required to present a Social Security number for all household members. They must also furnish written proof of identity, age, citizenship, residence, income, pregnancy, disability, or termination of employment.

Eligibility must be re-determined every six months for benefits to continue. Recipients are required to report any change in status (such as employment, household number, etc.) within 10 days.

If they are physically able, adult recipients are expected to meet a 30-hour per week work requirement.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services closely monitors the performance of the counties in their compliance with federal and state rules regarding the OWF program. (The only exception is the law requiring counties to offer all OWF recipients and applicants the opportunity to register to vote. There is no monitoring of compliance with this law.)

Ohio goes to great lengths to verify that the 130,000 children that remain on OWF cash assistance with their families are indeed poor and need the assistance. Nevertheless, we still provide benefits that rise to only 50 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. We are spending only about 25 percent of the TANF block grant on cash assistance. We are neglecting the needs of these families on purpose.

--Jack Frech, Director

May 25, 2007

A big hole in the safety net: Ohio’s TANF funding, Part 3

Living with grandparents

The most common OWF households consist of one or two children living with a relative who acts as a caregiver. Typically these caregivers are the children’s grandparents.

Of the roughly 80,000 households receiving OWF in December 2006, more than half (52.5 percent) were “child only” cases, meaning that only the children in these households receive public assistance. Child-only assistance groups have been steadily increasing over the past several years.

Of the 79,592 OWF cases in Ohio, about 52 percent are child-only cases, many with grandparents as caregivers. The average OWF household size is now two, given the larger increase in child-only cases.

More than 75.5 percent of OWF children are younger than 13. About 42 percent are under the age of six. Of the total OWF caseload in December 2006, 76 percent were children.

--Jack Frech, Director

May 23, 2007

A big hole in the safety net: Ohio’s TANF funding, Part 2

There are 130,000 children who depend on the TANF-funded cash assistance program, Ohio Works First. These children’s families are very poor. We spend a great deal of money, time and effort through our local County Department of Job and Family Services offices to prove that families receiving OWF assistance don’t have other resources and comply with all the program work requirements and time limits. After all this, we give them only about half of the amount we know they need to live on according to Federal Poverty Level standards. There is no doubt that this has caused many hardships for these children and their families.

We provide a typical OWF family with about $320 a month in cash and $280 in Food Stamps, with which they cannot meet their basic needs. Ohio has accumulated the largest balance of unspent TANF funds in the nation—about $431 million in unobligated funds—because we have been unwilling to provide a decent level of assistance for these kids.

The governor’s budget, which is still currently undergoing the approval process, does a lot to help children, just not the poorest children. It calls for a “cost of living” adjustment in January 2009 for OWF families at a cost of $4.6 million. It will be 3 percent, or about $9 a month. Because of a projected drop in caseloads, the actual OWF line item will decrease by about $25 million a year. Two years from now, children relying on TANF funding clearly won’t be any better off with this increase than they are now; it’s likely they’ll be worse off.

Last year, Representative Jimmy Stewart (R-District 92) introduced a bill to raise OWF benefits by $100 a month at a cost of $100 million in TANF funds. It was dismissed as being unsustainable. The governor’s new budget increases TANF funding expenditures by $200 million a year to go towards programs such as the Early Learning Initiative and child care provider payments. These programs are all necessary and helpful to the community at large, and may require additional funding, but they won’t pay the bills for the families on cash assistance.

--Jack Frech, Director

May 21, 2007

A big hole in the safety net: Ohio’s TANF funding, Part 1

With the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act in 1996, cash assistance caseloads have dropped dramatically as thousands of welfare recipients have taken jobs. While many of those former recipients have successfully left the welfare rolls and have improved financially as a result, some remain in poverty. In the first five years after welfare reform, caseloads dropped dramatically, but they have remained at the same level in the past five years—meaning there are people that just can’t get out of poverty through this system.

There are 130,000 children being served by the cash assistance program in Ohio. To put this number into perspective:

· If they were all in one place they would constitute the population of Youngstown, and would outnumber the populations of 67 of Ohio’s 88 counties; and
· If they held hands and formed a line it would stretch from Columbus to the Ohio River in Portsmouth, nearly 100 miles away.

The most dramatic change in the demographics of clients served by cash assistance has been the increase in “child only” cases. These are situations in which children are not living with their parents but rather with relative caregivers, usually grandparents. In these cases, as the name implies, only the children are eligible for benefits. This is now the most common family situation for children receiving cash benefits.

The average family of two on the OWF program receives only about $320 a month in cash assistance. Ohio must increase the cash assistance benefits to an adequate level. These 130,000 children live in families who comply with all of the strict rules of Welfare Reform, yet the benefits they receive are not enough to meet basic human needs.

--Jack Frech, Director

May 15, 2007



-Location: Athens County is located in southeast Ohio in a region known as Appalachia. About an hour and a half's drive from Columbus, the city of Athens is the county's largest city.

-Population: The 2005 population estimate for the county is 62,062. About one-third of the county's population is students from Ohio University, a public institution located in Athens. The presence of OU students along with the students of nearby Hocking College in Nelsonville tend to skew the median age of the county towards the younger side of the spectrum at 25.7 years old. (The state's median age is about 36).

-Economic Climate:The poverty rates in Appalachia tend to be higher than other regions; Athens County is recognized as the poorest county in the state with an individual poverty rate of 27.4 percent. One major difference between Athens and surrounding counties, however, is that the unemployment rate in Athens is only slightly higher than the state average. Most manufacturing jobs have left the area, leaving only service industry and some government jobs available for residents. Despite being employed, many residents of the county are unable to rise above the federal poverty rate. Nearly half of our population is considered "working poor" or living in poverty. Athens County's median household income is $27,322. The state median is $40,956.

-Public Assistance:The Athens County Department of Job and Family Services provided more than $96 million in services last year, ranging from child support enforcement to gas vouchers to GED test preparation. See our annual report for more detailed descriptions of our services.