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