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

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