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]