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.