Dec 29, 2008

Food pantry gives away toys, food for Christmas, sees demand continue to rise

Families from Athens, Meigs and Washington counties poured into the tiny Athens County village of Torch recently, stopping at a small, indiscriminate building to find Christmas presents for their children.

Inside the building, the Friends and Neighbors Community Food Pantry was holding its annual Christmas toy giveaway program. The program is designed to provide enough toys for 100 families, but Director Lisa Roberts said that this year additional families called and asked about toys after the registration deadline, so she hoped to be able to provide for 115 families.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” said one Meigs County resident while picking out presents for her children. “If it wasn’t for this, my kids wouldn’t have any Christmas presents this year.”

The woman is unable to work because of her disability, so she tries to survive on her disability income. She does not have enough money each month to pay most of her bills, and this year she knew that for the first time she would not be able to afford to buy Christmas gifts for her children.

“I’m not allowed to buy my own home,” she added. She can barely pay the rent as it is, and said it has been getting harder every day to get by. This year has been the worst, which is why she had to visit the Christmas present giveaway program. Her children have been adjusting well to the tough economic situation at home, but the woman was very happy to have the presents to give them.

Roberts said every year she hears stories similar to this woman’s, stories of people who are just struggling to get by.

“It’s worse this year,” Roberts said. The high gas prices hurt people earlier in the year, the rising prices for groceries and other items have had an impact, and the national economic problems have just made things tougher for many people.

“As winter comes on, it presents another challenge,” Roberts added. Many people have to pay high utility bills during the winter months. Even if they receive funding from home heating assistance programs, that funding often does not get them through the whole winter.
Flu season is also tough on many families living in poverty, Roberts added. Over-the-counter medications can be expensive, but people often need the medicine for themselves or their children. When you add in trying to buy Christmas presents and serving a special Christmas meal at home, it can all cost too much for many families, Roberts said.

The Friends and Neighbors Community Food Pantry toy giveaway program was held over three days, Dec. 18,19 and 20, and provided a lot of toys for families in need. Each family could pick up stuffed animals, large toys, small toys, electronic toys, dolls, coloring books, socks, underwear, sweaters, coats, hats, gloves and other types of items.

“We started working on this in January,” Roberts explained. The food pantry takes donations and saves up items throughout the year, and also buys many of the presents at summer yard sales. Area residents also donate money to the center for the program, and that allows the volunteers to buy toys from local stores. This year, the center also held a Chinese auction where they raffled off Christmas decorations and raised more than $300 for the Christmas present program.

The pantry also held extra food giveaway programs, where local families could pick up items especially for a Christmas meal.

Like many food pantries, Friends and Neighbors operates out of small buildings and humble surroundings. Volunteers run the operation, and many of them have received food and other items from the pantry previously.

But while the Friends and Neighbors program may look small and simple, it is providing a huge service to people in need, and it made Christmas much warmer and memorable to more than 100 families this year. For more information on the Friends and Neighbors programs, call Roberts at (740) 667-0684.

Dec 15, 2008

New Census figures show people of all ages are living in poverty in Athens County

The city of Athens has the highest poverty rate in the country for any city its size or larger. Athens County has the highest poverty rate in the state.
Those two statements should alarm and outrage the people of Athens County.
New U.S. Census figures for 2005-2007 show that 52.3 percent of the people in the city of Athens are living in poverty. The figures also show that 31.6 percent of the people of Athens County are living in poverty.
While Ohio University students have an impact on the survey, the Census figures show that the poverty rate in the city is very high even if the students are not counted.
· 50.4 percent, of the children under the age of five in Athens live in poverty.
· 34.6 percent of the city residents who are 18 years old or younger live in poverty.
· 30.5 percent of the married couples with children under the age of five live in poverty.
· 48.8 percent of the families with a female head of household live in poverty.
· 100 percent of the families with a female head of household that have children under the age of five live in poverty.
The Census figures also show the poverty problem for all of Athens County.
· Athens County has the fourth-highest rate in the state of children under the age of 18 living in poverty at 32.4 percent. The state average is 18.5 percent.
· Athens County has the eighth-highest rate in the state for people over the age of 65 living below the poverty level at 13.3 percent. The state average is 8.4 percent.
· Athens County has by far the lowest percent of employed civilians over the age of 16 working in manufacturing. Just 5.6 percent of employed civilians work in manufacturing. The state average is 17 percent, and the highest average is 38.5 percent in Shelby County.
· Athens County also has the highest percentage, again by a wide margin, of employed civilians over the age of 16 who work in service occupations. In the county, 25.1 percent of employed people work in the service industry. The state average is 16.5 percent, and the lowest percent is in 11.9 percent in Delaware County.

The Census numbers show that the students are not the main reason the city’s poverty rate is so high. Athens has a higher poverty rate than other college towns in Ohio such as Bowling Green, Kent and Oxford. The figures show that a very high number of non-students in the city live in poverty.
For the county, the figures clearly show how children, senior citizens and residents of all ages are living in poverty. The county has very few manufacturing jobs where people can make high-paying wages, but has a large number of low-paying, service industry jobs.
The county also has a high number of professional jobs through Ohio University, Hocking College and other institutions, but these jobs are not as accessible as manufacturing positions. Often, the professional jobs are filled by people who move into the area.

Also, there is no reason why the students should not count in the Census figures or why their presence here should allow anyone to downplay the poverty problem.
The students all live in Athens and use city and county services. While they contribute to the university, which creates job and benefits the community, for the most part they do not pay local property taxes or income taxes that help pay for government services. They also do not spend much money at businesses outside of the area near campus.
· The city of Athens has the lowest percentage in the state of married couple households, according to the Census figures. The rate in the city is 24.9 percent while the state average is 49.2 percent.
· The city has the lowest percentage in the state for owner-occupied homes. The rate in the city is 32.1 percent, while the state average is 70 percent.
· The cities that have the highest percentages of married couple households and the highest percentage of owner occupied homes are among the cities that have the lowest poverty levels in the state.
· The city has the second highest rate in the state for people who lived in different homes one year ago. The rate in Athens is 62.1 percent, while Oxford has the highest rate at 63.3 percent. The state average is 15.5 percent.
· The city also has the lowest rate of people who drive to work (or school). In Athens, the rate is 41.2 percent, while statewide the percent is 83.1 percent.
The figures show the city is filled with students who are here for a short time, do not have large incomes and do not impact the community in the way that stable families who own their own homes and have large incomes would.

The state and federal governments need to do more to help the people in need. Cash assistance, which only gets an eligible family up to nearly one-third of the federal poverty level, needs to be increased by $100 per month.
In addition, monthly food stamps funding, which only provides for enough food for two weeks, needs to provide enough food for an entire month. Health care services must be available to all adults who live below the federal poverty level. Disability income must be increased. Funding for mental health and substance abuse counseling for families living below the poverty level must be increased.
All of these programs help those in need, and they help the community as a whole. Studies show that public assistance programs stimulate the economy, because the people who receive the funding spend it at local businesses. For every $1 spent in food stamps, for example, $1.73 goes into the local economy.
We can’t just ignore or downplay these poverty figures, or ignore or downplay these people living in need. It’s time to take action to help.

For more information, contact Nick Claussen, community relations coordinator for Athens County Job and Family Services, at (740) 797-2523 or clausn@odjfs.state.oh.us.

Nov 25, 2008

Area residents wait for hours for food, line of cars stretches 1 1/2 miles

When the Smith Chapel Food Pantry in Logan opened at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 24, the line of cars waiting to get in stretched for 1 ½ miles.
Cars began arriving at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday night, and by 5 a.m. there were already 106 cars filled with people waiting in the dark, cold night for food.
The pantry hands out food items on the fourth Monday of every month to families that register with the facility. More than 80 volunteers were on hand on Nov. 24, working out in the rain to get food to the families who might otherwise go without.

“Have a smile on your face today and give everyone a kind word. This may be the only kind word they get all week,” said Dannie Devol to the volunteers just before the pantry opened for the day. Devol and his wife, Jane, run the facility, which also has a thrift shop that is open on Wednesdays and Fridays. The thrift shop helps to support the pantry, and also allows area residents to buy clothing items for $.50, coats for $1 and other items for very low prices.
In October, the pantry served food items to 759 families, which represented more than 2,000 people in need. The number of people helped on Monday was expected to be even higher.
Devol starts each day at the pantry leading the volunteers in a prayer and short pep talk. Then, the volunteers get to their stations and two lines of cars begin slowing making their way through the parking lot, getting food items placed in their vehicles at each station.
James Thompson got in line at 12:30 a.m. on Monday so that he could get through the line quickly after it opened.
“I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t get here then,” he said. He also receives food stamps, but that program only provides for enough food for his family for about two weeks. The food pantry items help his family get through the month, he said.
One woman, who only wanted to give her first name, Cindy, explained that she got in line at 4 a.m.
“I wouldn’t be able to make it without this,” she said. Cindy works part-time, but the job does not pay enough to cover all of her bills or provide for her and her daughter.
One man, who also did not want to give his name, explained that he is disabled and unable to work. He got in line at 4:20 a.m. in order to get food.
While he is very thankful for the assistance, he wishes that he could be one of the people giving out the food instead of being one of the people receiving it.
Tammy Tippie got into the line at 4:30 a.m. She explained that the food items the pantry hands out make it worthwhile to spend much of the night sleeping in her car out in the cold.
“I’ve got my blanket,” she said. Tippie moved to Logan a few months ago and was able to find a job, but it does not pay enough to cover all of her expenses. She did not know how she would have made it through Thanksgiving without the help from the pantry, and said it means a lot to her and her family.
The food pantry hands out items such as cereal, tomato paste, vegetable soup, tomato juice, green beans, corn, peas, rice, dried cherries, applesauce, beef stew, ham, onions, noodles, potatoes, apples and bread. On Monday, it also provided turkeys and turkey breasts for Thanksgiving.

Volunteer Susan Aldridge helped to coordinate the turkey hand-outs on Monday. Aldridge is the store manager for the Logan Wal-Mart, and explained that the store had 31 employees volunteering at the pantry. The store previously has had as many as 68 volunteers at the pantry, and Aldridge explained that Wal-Mart donates $5,000 to the pantry every time a certain number of volunteer hours are worked there by the store employees.
“It humbles you,” Aldridge said about working at the pantry. “You look at all the people in line and you’ve got to be thankful for what you have, and you want to give something back.” The people going through the line are also very thankful, and Aldridge said she enjoys talking to them.
One woman told Aldridge that her grandchildren were coming to her home for Thanksgiving, and she was worried she wouldn’t have anything to feed them. The food bank was a big help for her, she said.
One store employee worked until 11 p.m. on Sunday, and then got in line at 1 a.m. so she could pick up food for two elderly shut-ins that she knows, Aldridge said. Many people, like that employee, go through the line picking up items for other people even if they are not receiving any food themselves.
George Ralph spent his day giving the people in line fliers about the free medical clinics held at local churches for the uninsured and underinsured. Ralph said that it is striking to see how long the line is for people waiting for food, and said it shows how deep the poverty problem is in the region.
“It gets a hold of you,” Ralph said.
The poverty problem is growing in southeast Ohio and the holidays can often add to the burden faced by local families. The fact that Thanksgiving and Christmas both come at the end of the month, while the government benefits many people receive don’t provide for enough food or funding to make it through a whole month, also makes it difficult for many families.
For more information on the Smith Chapel Food Pantry, call Devol at (740) 974-1356 or log onto smithchapelfoodpantry.com

By Nick Claussen
Community Relations Coordinator, Athens County Job and Family Services
(740) 797-2523
clausn@odjfs.state.oh.us

Nov 14, 2008

Slackers?

The campaign for a “Real Bottom Line of How Much Money it takes to Survive” has provided a much-needed resource to define what amount of money a family needs to meet its basic needs. The research and hard work put into this effort are to be commended. If nothing else, it confirms the inadequacy of our financial safety net of public assistance programs. It also explains the constant struggle our working poor families are facing in their effort to make ends meet. It further suggests that government programs should look to this new higher standard as a guide for eligibility. This would, of course, expand the benefits many of our financial assistance programs offer to many more families, which is a worthy goal. No one in America should do without basic human necessities.

Unfortunately, in a sample letter to the editor (see below) issued by the supporters of this plan, there seems to be very inappropriate comments about “welfare” and those receiving cash assistance as being “slackers.” Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines a “slacker” as “a person who shirks work or obligation.” The writer seems to be making the point that somehow the assistance we give to working families is not welfare and in the process chooses to malign those families who currently must rely on cash assistance.

The term “slacker” cannot be applied to folks receiving assistance under the “reformed” welfare system adopted in this country ten years ago. Welfare reform added time limits, work requirements, reporting requirements, and sophisticated computer monitoring systems to resolve the issues of who “deserved” public assistance raised by all the old myths about welfare. Folks receiving public assistance benefits cannot and do not shirk work or their many other obligations. However, apparently some of the advocates for the poor have adopted the currently fashionable political posturing of some that public assistance given to folks who are more like “us” is not welfare and, therefore, is acceptable. Folks who are more like “us” are more “deserving” of our help.

Instead of trashing the poorest people, those on cash assistance, we need to build stronger coalitions among all low-income families and individuals. The truth is that all means-tested financial assistance programs are welfare. That includes Medicaid, child care subsidies, housing assistance, earned income tax credits and HEAP. It baffles me as to why some programs are seen in such a positive light and others denigrated. Someone receiving financial assistance due to limited income is in the same boat as millions of other people who are sick, disabled, unemployed, divorced, elderly or just working at a low wage job. We should all be proud that we live in a country that feels a responsibility to help its less fortunate citizens. Pitting the poor against each other does not advance our efforts to create a just and fair society.

Jack Frech 11/10/08
Director, Athens County Department of Job and Family Services

====================================================================

DRAFT Op-ED for Submission to Daily Newspaper Editorial Editor by Low Income Advocate
Please review carefully and personalize with individual country information

What’s the REAL Bottom Line of How Much Money it Takes to Survive Here in XXXXX County and Why It Matters

As ______[job title and organization]_____________________________, I’ve learned that how we as a nation define, measure and report poverty is emotionally charged and can often generate more heat than light.


Many times, when the conversation turns to poverty here in America and in our community, logic and rationality can go out the window. And when that happens the possibility of any useful follow-up discussion about what, if anything, can and should be done to assist those who are not making it financially becomes almost impossible.

But in these scary and challenging economic times, it’s even more critical to have these kinds of discussions as more and more Ohioans find themselves closer to the margins and living on the edge.

I’ve seen it many times. Just using terms like “poverty”, “poor” or “low-income” can conjure up arguments, resentments, political agendas and a host of other distractions that don’t help us get any closer to answering the real question that we as citizens of any income level or political viewpoint should want to know: Exactly how much money does it take to be economically self-sufficient right here in our community? In other words, exactly how much money is required to be able to pay the basic bills without any family, charitable or government assistance?

If conservatives, liberals and everybody else could just find common ground on what economic self-sufficiency really means in the real world – what the REAL bottom line for survival is – then we could discuss and debate what we should do about it in a more meaningful way. We might not agree on the policy prescriptions or action agenda for helping people become more self sufficient but, at least, we could start the discussion on the same page.

With a new President and Congress (on the horizon) the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies (OACAA) – the organization representing Ohio’s XX locally-governed poverty-fighting organizations – believed the time was right to answer this question for each of Ohio’s 88 counties. So, they asked the University of Washington to develop something called The Ohio Self Sufficiency Standard for 2008.

The Ohio Self-Sufficiency Standard uses a proven formula and real world data to determine exactly the minimum amount of money it takes to pay the rent, buy food, cover child care, get to work and just cover the basics without any savings, fun or frills in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Right here in XXXXXX County, for example, two working parents with an infant need to earn at a minimum of $XX,XXX a year to be considered self sufficient; that’s $X.XX per hour per parent. Again, this represents the REAL bottom line of what it takes to just get by. That figure is well above the federal poverty guidelines, which determine eligibility for programs like Head Start and Medicaid that can help low income working people better be able to hold onto a job. That figure is well above the minimum wage. In fact that figure is more than most jobs in Ohio pay.

The Ohio Self Sufficiency Standard presents a budget and the necessary income to meet that budget for various family sizes and configurations in every Ohio county along with full information on how the researchers determined each county’s self-sufficiency budgets. You can access the full report at:

www.oacaatraining.org (or newspaper web site, if posted there).
As you look through the report and digest the numbers keep these things in mind:
  • The families who live below the self-sufficiency standard or even below the federal government’s definition of poverty – which is usually around half of the self-sufficiency standard – are by-and-large working families. They aren’t on welfare. They aren’t slacking off. They work low wage jobs and are treading water. Sadly today, with fewer jobs and lower wages in every corner of Ohio, working is too often not a ticket to true self sufficiency;
  • In order to survive and be able to raise a family on wages that pay below the self-sufficiency standard, we believe – especially now -- that a solid system of work supports needs to be in place – child care assistance, health care, job-training and skills development, housing vouchers, etc. – to reward work and help assure families can cover the basics that low wages do not until additional training and job success moves them toward real self-sufficiency;
  • We also believe that the federal Poverty Guidelines used to determine eligibility for these kinds of work supports should be adjusted to be closer to the self-sufficiency family budgeting standard in the report rather than the artificially low and outdated methods used to calculate them today.

Look through the self-sufficiency standard for your county and ask yourself if the numbers make sense as a way to determine a survival baseline. If they do, then join us in the coming dialogue on how we can assure more Ohio working families meet and ultimately exceed this standard.

XXXXXXX is XXXXXXXXXXXX

====================================================================

Oct 6, 2008

No bail out for our poorest children

There are 3 million children in America, including 130,000 in Ohio, who depend on the reformed welfare system to meet their basic needs. The families of these children comply with all of the time limits, work requirements, extensive verifications and numerous rules of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant. An average family of two on TANF in Ohio receives $336 a month in cash assistance and would also be eligible for a maximum of $298 a month in Food Stamps. When combined, this only provides an income of roughly half of the Federal Poverty Level. Ohio’s benefit amount is close to the national average.

These families cannot meet their basic needs. The economic depression is here for them now. They must frequently depend on food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. They are doubled and tripled up in their housing.

The annual TANF appropriation for the nation is about $16 billion. The Food Stamp program appropriation is about $35 billion. Both have been reauthorized by Congress in the past few years. There were no emergency meetings of Congress, no pleas from the White House, no media attention to address the 3 million American children who are hungry by design. Yet, Congress is willing to spend $700 billion to bail out Wall Street.

Jack Frech
Director

Sep 2, 2008

New child support rules hit low income parents in the wallet

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ Office of Child Support is proceeding to implement new provisions related to cash medical support. Cash medical support is an additional cash obligation imposed on the non-custodial parent that was intended by the federal government to help offset the cost of health insurance premiums paid by the custodial parent and/or help cover the cost of uninsured medical costs, things that Ohio was already dealing with in its child support orders. But instead of using the cash medical provisions to help custodial parents, Ohio has instead chosen to use the provisions primarily as a way to recover Medicaid costs. As a result, low income working custodial parents with a child on Medicaid will now receive less child support.

Were it not for other examples of how the Strickland administration is expanding social services to cover people at higher income levels by taking away support from people at lower income levels, this would be just another sad example of one hand of government not knowing what the other hand is doing. On the one hand, the Office of Child support is implementing new rules that will allow the state to recover part of the cost of providing Medicaid coverage by allowing the state to take part of a low income working custodial parent’s child support. Yet on the other hand, Governor Strickland established his Anti-Poverty Task Force which has a mandate to recommend ways to reduce the number of Ohioans (3.4 million) living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. It is impossible to believe that any low income working custodial parents will be elevated out of poverty by having the state take part of their child support payments. It is also impossible to believe that any low income working non-custodial parent making between 150% and 200% of poverty will be elevated out of poverty by having more money withheld from their wages to pay cash medical support to the state.

The amount of child support lost to the custodial parent is a regressive tax on low income working custodial parents. By taxing these custodial parents the governor continues his practice of taking funds away from people with lower incomes to pay for expansion of services to people with higher incomes. Governor Strickland intends to pay for his promise to expand Medicaid coverage to children at higher income levels by taking child support funds that would have previously gone to low income working custodial parents. The cash medical provisions also operate as a regressive tax on the non-custodial parents. The cash medical amount for one child for a non-custodial parent making $16,640 per year is the same for a non-custodial parent making $44,000 annually, $775.00 per year. The cash medical amounts to 4.7% versus 1.8% of the total annual income for each non-custodial parent respectively.

Another example of where the governor has taken money from people with lower incomes and given it to people with higher incomes is the governor’s expansion of day care and his increases in day care reimbursement rates using federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds. Instead of using the TANF surplus to help address the immediate needs of the 130,000 poorest children in Ohio receiving Ohio Works First (OWF) benefits who live at about 50% of the poverty level, Governor Strickland choose instead to increase day care eligibility to families earning up to 200% of the poverty level and to increase the rates paid to day care providers regardless of their income.

This regressive taxing policy being implemented by the Strickland administration reverses a national philosophical trend to see the child support program as a family support program and not as a government cost recovery program. While considered a way of recovering money for the state when it was initially implemented, the child support program is now generally seen as an important and effective means of providing valuable financial support to a family, i.e., a “family friendly” program.

This trend was continued at the federal level with various provisions within the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA). In the DRA, Congress provided several opportunities for Ohio to help enhance the financial support available to low income families that receive child support. But Ohio has failed to implement any of the options. Instead, Ohio has chosen to reverse course with its child support program and make Medicaid cost recovery a primary program goal. In moving toward that goal, the money that the custodial parent loses is taken by the state. That is certainly not family friendly.

Therefore, one obvious recommendation for Governor Strickland’s Anti-Poverty Task Force should be to stop the Office of Child Support’s implementation of new child support rules surrounding the collection of cash medical support. Adopting the “family friendly” provisions allowed by the DRA should also be one of the recommendations of the governor’s Anti-Poverty Task Force.

In these times of shrinking budgets and hard choices, those with the least should not be asked to pay for the benefits provided to those with more. Yet, the Strickland administration continues to tax and take away from the families with the lowest incomes in order to expand benefits to those higher incomes. Our priorities must be to use scarce resources to help those with the least first.

By implementing the provisions surrounding cash medical support, Ohio is implementing changes to its child support program that will make the calculation and payment of child support more complex, confusing, and costly for parents, more difficult and costly for employers and which provides no additional benefits to the children served by the program. A low income working custodial parent with a child on Medicaid will receive the same Medicaid coverage. The difference will be that the non-custodial parent will pay more and the custodial parent will receive less child support under these new rules.

~ Gregg Oakley, Athens County Child Support Enforcement Agency

Aug 26, 2008

Back to school, but not for free

This is a re-post from last year that we feel is still relevant, if not more relevant, today...

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 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 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.

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.

Ohio needs to adopt the principle and practice of a free public education.

--Jack Frech, Director

Aug 21, 2008

Nothing is worse than doing nothing

According to national data, the foreclosure rate on mortgage loans has increased by more than 50% since 2000. How did this happen? Easier access to home loans, an increasingly fragile economy, and trigger events, such as loss of a job, reduction in income, or a health emergency cause mortgages to suddenly be beyond the financial abilities of many homeowners.

If facing mortgage issues, nothing is worse than doing nothing. According to recent industry studies, more than half of homeowners facing foreclosure do not call for help when they begin to fall behind on their payments. The early stages of foreclosure are the most crucial and require fast action by the borrow – studies show that homeowners who are one or two payments behind are more likely to keep their homes than those further behind on their payment schedule.

Homeowners at risk of foreclosure are urged to take the first steps to avoid losing their biggest investment and to keep their home equity: ask for help and respond to the lender’s letters and calls. The earlier financially distressed homeowners reach out for assistance, the more options they have to address their mortgage issues and potentially avoid foreclosure. Lenders are often willing to work with a borrower, if the borrower makes an effort early on.

Ignoring the situation will not make it go away. Seek help as soon as you think there may be a problem.


Tips to Save Your Home:

1. Call Ohio's Save the Dream Hotline today: 1-888-404-4674.

2. Contact your lender. Even if you have not missed a payment yet, talk to your lender if you see a problem arising. Many lenders are willing to work with homeowners. You may be able to create a repayment plan, add the missed payment to the remaining balance, or modify the loan.

3. Open and respond to all letters from your lender. The sooner you deal with missing mortgage payments, the easier it is to find a solution.

4. Seek help from state and local resources that can help you negotiate with your mortgage company. Find a list of local resources at http://www.savethedream.ohio.gov/ or call 1-888-404-4674.

5. Document all contact with your lender.

6. Respond to summons in 28 days. If your loan servicer has filed a foreclosure complaint, you will receive a summons. You must respond, in writing, within 28 days! For assistance with a response or a referral, contact Southeastern Ohio Legal Services.

7. When faced with foreclosure, be sure you understand Ohio’s foreclosure process. Foreclosure may take anywhere from six months to more than a year.

8. Do not abandon your home. You do not have to leave your house until it it sold at a Sheriff’s sale. Continue to live in your house while you are trying to get help. If you abandon your property, you may not qualify for assistance.

9. Be aware of forclosure scams. Solutions sounding too good to be ture, usually are. Scam artists often target defendants named in foreclosure proceedings. They often assert that they are “foreclosure specialists” or “mortgage specialists,” claiming they will save your home from foreclosure in exchange for a sum of money.

10. Do not sign any document that you do not understand. Southeastern Ohio Legal Services can review documents that your lender may want you to sign to ensure that your best interests are protected.


Athens County Resources:

Athens County Job & Family Services
http://jfs.athenscountygovernment.com/
740-797-2523 or 1-800-762-3775
Provides basic foreclosure information and referrals. Prevention Retention and Contingency (PRC) program supplies short-term emergency assistance for income-eligible families.

Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development
http://www.coadinc.org/
740-594-8499
Housing counselors are availabe to help with the foreclosure process. Rescue loans are available to help bring homeowners current on their mortgages.

Empowering and Strenthening Ohio’s People
http://www.esop-cleveland.org/
1-877-731-3767
Provides assistance in working out resolutions with mortgage service providers.

Southeastern Ohio Legal Services
http://www.seols.org/
740-594-3558
Provides a range of free legal services to homeowners who meet the basic income eligibility.



State of Ohio Resources:

Save the Dream
http://www.savethedream.ohio.gov/
1-888-404-4674

Richard Cordray, Ohio Treasurer of State
http://www.yourmoneynowonline.org/
1-800-228-1102

Aug 7, 2008

Register to Vote



Monday, Oct 6, 2008 is the deadline to register to vote in the November General Election.
Register at any of our offices during normal business hours.
Download the voter registration form here.

Jul 22, 2008

“Focus on the Basics” NEWS CONFERENCE

Please join the directors of Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Perry, Ross, Scioto and Vinton County Job & Family Services, Children Services and the 317 Board of Athens, Hocking & Vinton Counties, for a news conference: 10:00 a.m., on Wednesday, July 23, 2008, in the conference room of the Ross County Jobs One-Stop, 150 E. Second St., Chillicothe, Ohio for our “Focus on the Basics” news conference.

The gaping holes in the government safety net for Ohio families has many without sufficient income to meet their basic human needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Our government’s failure to prioritize the needs of the poorest of the poor is causing increased hardships among those least suited to survive them. Simultaneously, other challenges facing many of these same families are growing worse as they must focus all of their energy on simply surviving. We must “focus on the basics” and place a greater priority on local, state and federal resources for the poorest of the poor.


Ohio Works First (OWF) Client Surveys
These quotes represent a sample of the responses by OWF clients to the following question:

What financial or medical hardships are you facing?

“Every month I live with the fear of being evicted. I’m a single mom with two children…and if that were to happen, I have nowhere to go. I currently get OWF $410, but my rent is $425 not including utilities, or diapers, wipes, toilet paper, shampoo, soap, laundry detergent or gas for my van. Because of all the rising costs, I’m digging a financial hole every month I can’t get out of. This causes a lot of depression, despair and worry. I’m so busy with the worry of money, I can’t even enjoy my children as much as I would like to. Please, please help us, this can’t go on. Somebody be our voice. Sincerely…”

“I feel kind of a let-down and basically worthless to my son. If I had a car and extra money to feed him our hopes would begin to open up doors.”

“…I am a single father taking care of my 4-year old daughter…I have realized that due to the high bottle gas prices (which is a necessity to have in my home for cooking, heating, and having hot water for showers) and now the rising prices for automotive gasoline, complications have developed in my ability to provide my daughter with new clothing and new shoes when she needs them. This situation is also hurting my daughter due to our home and our vehicle (our only form of transportation), needing desperate repairs done to them. I could sit here and write a novel to you regarding all of the financial, physical, and mental hardships that I face on a day to day basis.”

“…There are days we don’t get to eat a solid meal, just soup and bread if we are lucky…”

“I am a single parent trying to raise 2 children on $410 a month because my doc says I’m unable to work…by the time you pay your utilities you have nothing left so you are struggling every month just to survive…”

Jul 15, 2008

Ohio Works First Client Survey

The Athens County Department of Job & Family Services sent a one question survey to all current Ohio Works First households in February 2008. These quotes represent a sample of the responses to the following question:

"What financial or medical hardships are you facing?"


“Every month I live with the fear of being evicted. I’m a single mom with two children…and if that were to happen, I have nowhere to go. I currently get OWF $410, but my rent is $425 not including utilities, or diapers, wipes, toilet paper, shampoo, soap, laundry detergent or gas for my van. Because of all the rising costs, I’m digging a financial hole every month I can’t get out of. This causes a lot of depression, despair and worry. I’m so busy with the worry of money, I can’t even enjoy my children as much as I would like to. Please, please help us, this can’t go on. Somebody be our voice. Sincerely…”

“I feel kind of a let-down and basically worthless to my son. If I had a car and extra money to feed him our hopes would begin to open up doors.”

“I never have enough money to pay my bills. I always have to figure out how to pay for food, I get disconnection notices all of the time. I never have enough gas to transport my children to and from school. I don’t have enough money to buy my children new clothes or school supplies. I don’t have enough money to enroll my children in any kind of sports or activities. I’m always worried about how I’m going to pay for things. I don’t have enough money to transport my children or myself to doctor’s appointment. I just don’t have enough money. Gas is too high priced, so is food. How am I supposed to raise a family of 5 on one income? Please help, give us more money to live on.”

“…I am a single father taking care of my 4-year old daughter…I have realized that due to the high bottle gas prices (which is a necessity to have in my home for cooking, heating, and having hot water for showers) and now the rising prices for automotive gasoline, complications have developed in my ability to provide my daughter with new clothing and new shoes when she needs them. This situation is also hurting my daughter due to our home and our vehicle (our only form of transportation), needing desperate repairs done to them. I could sit here and write a novel to you regarding all of the financial, physical, and mental hardships that I face on a day to day basis.”

“For the past few months my family has been unable to fully pay our monthly rent for our home. My fiancĂ©’s job hours go up and down by the week. We have had to put ourselves further in debt by borrowing money just to have a place to live...It doesn’t help being denied for disability, over and over again. We began to lose hope, living paycheck to paycheck has really been a struggle. It just feels at times, people like us are looked at like lazy, poor individuals, which is obviously not the case at all. We just wanna be able to support our children and ourselves without worrying, what is to happen ‘next month.’”

“…There are days we don’t get to eat a solid meal, just soup and bread if we are lucky because I have other children that are over age and stop by to eat with us…”

“The income I receive is four hundred and ten dollars a month. My rent is four hundred dollars a month. By the time I pay my rent, I have to borrow money from my mother and friend to pay the utilities and don’t know were the money is coming from to pay it back…”

“It is very hard to get all that you can to feed your children when you don’t have the money or food stamps to buy them with. With the cost of gas now a days you get to pick either buy a gallon of milk or get a gallon of gas. And, if you don’t have gas to go get your child milk then you are just out of luck…”

“Trying to find a house to rent that I can afford…and money for gas…I just started working but its still hard to make ends meets. I’m on HUD waiting list going on two years now and still nothing is happening so far.”

“…I always run short on money for toilet paper, shampoo, conditioner, tampons, dish and laundry soap. And like everyone else who gets help from the state, I live disconnect notice from disconnect notice…I challenge any and all of our government officials to try to live off $336 per month. And let’s not forget we have to put gas in our cars at almost $4 a gallon.”

“…Without assistance we wouldn’t be able to make it so were very grateful the help is there, we just wish it could be more.”

“…Our food stamps don’t go a long way. Food prices have gone up, bills have all gone up and our income remains the same…I don’t like living month to month…Thank you for asking our opinions.”

“Where do I begin? I’m a single parent of three. I do get help…on top of that I work. I still struggle every pay check/every month…It would be really nice to be able to have some money in my pocket to be able to do something with my kids. As my kids are always telling me how they want this or want to do that and I have to tell them no. It’s sad when I can not even treat them to a 99 cent cheeseburger for good behavior.”

“…The food stamps we get are not enough to feed us for the month. We can’t buy anything healthy, it must be what’s on sale or what we can afford. Plus, I’ve got to throw in $100-$150 in money to the food cost every month. I also don’t have transportation. Instead of giving someone $20 for a 17 mile ride to the store I am giving them $40 for wear and tear and fuel.”

“…Raising 3 grandkids is a very hard task. I had to quite my job to keep kids. I could not pay for babysitter and could not get help…”
“…I don’t have enough money to buy my son clothes and shoes for school. I didn’t need help until I had a heart attack April 2007. I worked and I miss it a lot because I got paid every week and I was getting more a month. So if I can get help for gas and food, clothes, we would feel rich.”

“I am a single parent trying to raise 2 children on $410 a month because my doc says I’m unable to work…by the time you pay your utilities you have nothing left so you are struggling every month just to survive. I can see why people are depressed and turning to violence because they feel that they have no other choice…”

“I have financial hardships with trying to buy quality fresh nutritious food for my family of 4. Doctors, school, even family members tell me that my four year old eats too much pasta and other carbs (contributing to his weight gain) as opposed to fruits and vegetables! Duh! Fresh, quality fruits and veggies are too expensive to buy once a week! My food stamps do not cover my family’s needs!”

“…always running out of food before the month is half-way over.”

“…and I think every day there are people out there, that go through and have it rougher than I do.”

“…medical card sometimes doesn’t cover the medications we need.”

“…Financially, we can’t afford anything but pay rent and utility bills. We can’t afford gas (prices are too high) if children need something special for school or for a sporting activity, it’s a struggle to get it, if they get it. It’s a struggle to keep up with buying personal hygiene items in a month’s time…Medically, we can’t afford to pay for medication that our insurance will not cover even if we need it, pre-authorizations are denied! So we do without a medicine because we don’t have the money to pay for it!”

Summary Observations:
Most respondents noted the rising costs of food and gasoline are adding to their increased debt while they try to continue to make it to work or doctors appointments on limited income. Others talked about the problems with the Medicaid card not covering all medications or that pre-authorization created a hardship. Others talked about the mental anguish of being poor and the stress it causes on their daily lives.

Jul 8, 2008

Highlighting the impact of the current economy

This summer, The Athens NEWS plans to look at how the state’s poor economy and rising gas prices are impacting local government agencies and non-profits. Here are the first couple stories in a weekly series:

Gas prices, funding cuts batter Lottridge food bank, June 30, 2008

Seniors group cuts staff in response to budget cuts, gas prices, July 7, 2008

Disaster in the making: Regional food bank falls behind need, July 7, 2008


These stories come as no surprise to those of us working in human services, but thanks to the Athens News for sharing the stories of the impact on local services and the people they serve.

If you'd like to share a story, please comment!

May 21, 2008

The Future’s Not So Bright

With continued cuts in government spending for Medicaid, Social Security etc., the future is not looking so bright for the elderly. It has already become more and more difficult for this population to access any kind of supportive services. Furthermore, it has become increasingly difficult for government-mandated agencies to fulfill their duty to provide, not only the safest but, the least restrictive environment for their elderly clients.

In Ohio, when an individual has reached the point that they are unable to take care of themselves, it is the duty of the Adult Protective Services worker to intervene and apply for guardianship for those who have no family and for those cases where there has been no estate-appointed fiduciary.

Sound like a simple plan? Maybe, except for the fact that there are no volunteers to be guardians for these individuals and no funding to pay someone to take on this difficult task. Even when you are able to find a few good-hearted souls willing to take responsibility for the life of someone they have never met; then you need to have the gall to ask them if they are willing to pay the $250.00 application fee. Even family members who are willing to apply for guardianship for a loved one, are often deterred by the expense that can be involved in the process.

Although many of us are thankful for the increase in life expectancy possible for people of our century, there is also the possibility of living to an age where we may experience some degree of disability. Not just a physical or mental disability, but some disabling event that may cause us to lose the very things that we struggle our whole lives to maintain.

It is heartbreaking to hear the stories about the elderly woman heating her home with her oven after her furnace breaks because she can’t afford to have it fixed; or the elderly gentleman forced to leave his home because he can’t afford to fix his leaking roof. Where is our compassion and sense of duty? These are our parents, our grandparents, but most of all, human beings in need of a little help.

Tara Wallace
Health Services Director
Athens County Job & Family Services

May 1, 2008

Ravaged, And Now Rendered Invisible

Photo Essay on Chauncey, Ohio by Matt Eich
Featured in Newsweek:

"After extracting industries left in the '70's, communities like Chauncey never recovered. Work is hard to come by here. Many in this small, Appalachian town in Southeastern Ohio take jobs that pay minimum wage - or drive 75 to 150 miles to find something better. Still, a quarter of the 1,200 residents live below the poverty line. Matt Eich, a student at Ohio University, is documenting life in Chauncey and neighboring towns. Residents, he writes, can't escape the devastating cycle of poverty. And as it churns, he feels an "imperative to document." "
A selection of his work: http://www.newsweek.com/id/132802

Permission to post given by Matt Eich.

Mar 20, 2008

Start at the Bottom

The media is full of bad economic news we hear everyday: foreclosures, rising fuel and food costs, cuts in government budgets and a growing number of people without health insurance. These issues affect the daily lives of most families in one way or another. People previously secure may now be worried. Those who were only marginally getting by are now hurting. In times of a widespread economic turndown, it is easy to forget those who were not making it in the first place. They have been and still are hurting the most.

Disabled and elderly people, who must rely on fixed incomes, were already making tough choices between necessities. Low-wage and part-time workers were already forced to frequent soup kitchens and food pantries. Families with children depending on cash assistance were already living at less than half the poverty level. These people were already hurting before the recent round of price hikes for basic necessities like food or fuel.

So where is the sense of urgency to save them? I would say that our state and federal governments have forgotten them, but that assumes anyone in government was concerned about the poor to begin with. When faced with the largest surplus of federal welfare funds in the nation, Ohio chose to spend it primarily on people who weren’t poor. When reauthorizing the federal Food Stamp program, Congress did nothing to address the inadequacy of the benefit levels, even while lines at food pantries and soup kitchens grew. And, in the debate about the stimulus package, the first sacrifice was the proposed increase in Food Stamp benefits and an extension of unemployment assistance.

Assistance to help corporations or middle-class households seems to be the first priority. We have moved from trickle down economics to trickle down compassion. It seems to be a platform both political parties embrace.

We must refocus our assistance on the poorest of the poor first and immediately. They have no safety net.



Jack Frech, Director

Mar 4, 2008

Poor, hungry and ready to vote in Ohio

Southeast Ohio (including Athens County) was featured in the article Poor, hungry and ready to vote in Ohio in the Chicago Tribune. By Tim Jones Tribune correspondent, March 3, 2008.

Feb 28, 2008

Feb 27, 2008

Don’t Turn Away, Ohio

It is uncomfortable to face up to, but in our efforts to turn around Ohio, we cannot continue to turn away from our communities’ most severe problems and from the poorest of the poor among us. Families and individuals dealing with serious financial issues; problems caused by domestic violence; addiction or mental health problems are unfortunate realities that don’t go away even if they are ignored. Our goal must be to help people through these situations. While challenging even in the best of times, recent failures by the state and federal governments have made accomplishing this goal significantly more difficult. The failure on the part of government to ensure that all families have sufficient income to meet their basic human needs of food, clothing, and shelter has caused holes in the financial safety net to steadily worsen over the years. Our government’s failure to prioritize the needs of the poorest of the poor is causing increased hardships among those least suited to survive them.

Simultaneously, other challenges facing many of these same families are growing worse as a result of insufficient support for basic child welfare, mental health and substance abuse programs. These issues are bound together. It is virtually impossible to resolve many of the behavioral health issues families are facing when they must focus all of their energy on simply surviving. We must place a greater priority on financial resources for the poorest of the poor. We understand that, in these difficult economic times, many working poor families are struggling and need assistance. We certainly support all efforts to provide as much as we possibly can to aid these families. But we feel very strongly that support should not come at the expense of those who are still even poorer and have even fewer services available.

Therefore, we are calling on the Governor and the Ohio General Assembly to support the following:

• Public assistance benefits offered through the Ohio Works First program should be increased by $100 per month as previously proposed by Representative Jimmy Stewart. Currently, the average family receives a combined income of cash and Food Stamps at roughly 50% of the poverty level.

• Health care services must be available to all adults who earn less than 100% of the federal poverty level. Individuals who are not eligible for Medicaid lack the capacity to provide themselves with essential health care and, as a result, cause serious problems that affect the rest of the family, including their children.

• Mental health and substance abuse services must be available to all adults and children below the poverty level. Families dealing with these issues often have their treatment jeopardized by a lack of basic human needs. Personal and financial recovery must proceed together.

• The disability determination process must be fixed. With two separate systems (Medicaid and Social Security) to navigate, disabled people waste many months or years trying to get the help they need. Meanwhile, they suffer without much needed health care and income.

The failure of Ohio to deal effectively with these issues has created serious and unnecessary hardships for poor families and individuals. We have created an overwhelming demand for emergency food and housing services which continues to grow. Untreated mental health and substance abuse problems decimate already poor families. The ability of these individuals to obtain or retain employment is greatly challenged by inadequate health and behavioral health services.


We call upon the President and Congress to address the federal issues related to this problem:

• Food Stamp benefits are too low. Food Stamp benefits must be increased to meet 100% of the nutritional needs of poor families and the minimum benefit level should increase from $10 to $100 a month. Currently, Food Stamps are intended to provide about 75% of a family's nutritional needs. The presumption is that people could make up the difference with their cash. With stagnant income levels for the poor and the increased cost of living, this is not possible. The end result overwhelms our food pantries and soup kitchens.

• Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are too low and therefore need to be increased substantially. SSI payments for the elderly and disabled in Ohio average $430 a month or about 55% of the federal poverty level. The maximum payment is $637 per month or 75% of the federal poverty level. These people cannot work, yet we force them to live with the constant struggle to meet their basic needs.


We call upon our state and federal elected representatives to not turn away from these serious problems. We must take immediate action. This is already a crisis for the people affected by these issues.


$100 a Month OWF Grant Increase
There are 125,000 children who depend on the Ohio Works First TANF-funded cash assistance program. These 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 program work requirements and time limits. After all this, we give them only about half of the money we know they need to live on. 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. This does not meet their basic needs. Ohio has developed the largest balance of unspent TANF funds in the nation because we are unwilling to provide a decent level of assistance for these kids.
The Governor’s budget calls for a “cost of living adjustment” in January of 2009, at a cost of $4.6 million. For a family of three, this equates to roughly a 3% increase, or about $10 a month. These children will clearly be much worse off in a year than they are now. Although the Governor’s budget does a lot to help children, it does not help our poorest children.


Health Care for All Adults below the Poverty Level
Much has been said during recent years about the state of health care and its availability. Some feel health care is a basic need and should be universally available regardless of socioeconomic status. Others disagree, calling such an approach “socialized medicine,” thus politicizing the process and making the issue a heated debate. No matter which side of that ideological fence one chooses, it is undeniable that those with health insurance, and thus access to health care, live a different lifestyle that those without it. Many Americans are facing tough choices about whether to take medicine that enables them to live in better health or to feed their families. The basic medical procedures that many of us take for granted are being denied to people who do not have insurance, as health care facilities often will not even attend to an uninsured patient. Additionally, the poor cannot afford to practice preventive medicine. Medicaid and Medicare help children, the elderly and those who are disabled. The OWF program provides health care for some adults, but many poor parents and other adults are not eligible for Medicaid and can’t afford health services.


Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for All Poor Adults
We must increase access to mental health and substance abuse services for all adults who need services and live below the federal poverty level. With state funding cuts and the increased need to provide local funds for Medicaid match, services to non-Medicaid adults are extremely limited. Medicaid primarily serves elderly, disabled or child clients. Other poor adults are covered only in very limited circumstances. As a result, many are not eligible for Medicaid funded behavioral health services.

This creates a dual challenge to recovery and treatment. Much needed counseling or support services are limited or not available and the adult is left struggling with the day-to-day challenge of meeting their basic human needs.

The impact of untreated mental health or substance abuse issues goes far beyond the individual to affect the whole family and community in general. The state must fund adequate behavioral health services for everyone below the poverty level.


Social Security Disability and SSI Denials
We must reform the disability determination process. The majority of applicants for Social Security Disability or SSI are denied at the time of their initial application. Although 60% of all applicants who appeal an initially denied claim are eventually approved for disability benefits, the 1.5-2.5 year process can have devastating affects on them and their families. Not only are their financial futures in jeopardy, but so is there personal health. Despite their best efforts, they are unable to meet the basic needs of their families.

Waiting more than a year to receive benefits puts an additional strain on already hurting families. The number of backlogged cases is continuing to rise. Unless this issue is addressed, disabled workers who have paid into a system they thought they could depend on will continue to be let down, and the wait will only continue to grow.

Many people have lost their homes, and some their lives, while waiting to receive benefits. These people put their faith into a system that was supposed to help. The system has failed them and could fail thousands more if immediate, effective changes are not made. We must take adequate steps to reduce the number of initially denied applicants.


Overlooking the Basics
Policymakers have cited the importance of early childhood intervention in preparing children for a successful education. Numerous studies have documented the importance of providing children with a variety of education, childcare and parenting programs to help accomplish this goal. Unfortunately, the most important factor in promoting a child’s readiness and success in school is often overlooked or ignored: a safe, stable and secure family.

Programs that address education and child care will not work for families or children who do not have their basic needs met first. Children who are facing continual chaotic or stressful lives due to extreme poverty in their families will not thrive no matter how much their school or daycare improves. By having policies that assure that hundreds of thousands of children will spend time in households that can’t meet their basic needs, we are undermining the potential success of our early childhood intervention efforts.


We must provide sufficient benefits through our safety net programs to meet all basic needs for these families. Below are comments from studies on child care, school readiness and brain development. They all emphasize the prime importance of a safe, secure, and stable family as a prerequisite for success:

“The major providers of early childhood experience are parents. Programs to support and strengthen the family will increase the likelihood of optimal childhood experiences.”

Child Trauma Academy. http://www.childtrauma.org/. How Experiences in Early Childhood Create a Healthy Society.


“In marked contrast to the child-care effects just described, parenting quality significantly predicted all the developmental outcomes and much more strongly than did any of the child-care predictors.”

Belsky, Jay; Vandell, Deborah Lowe; Burchinal, Margaret; Clarke-Stewart, K. Alison; McCartney, Kathleen; Owen, Margaret Tresch. The NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2007). Are There Long-Term Effects of Early Child Care? Child Development, March/April 2007, Volume 78, Number 2, pages 693.


“The family plays the most important role in a young child’s life. Public policies should seek to support families in this role and to expand parents’ options for the care, health, and education of their children.”

National Governors Association. Final Report of the NGA Task Force on School Readiness. Building the Foundation for Bright Futures, page 1. Found at: http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0501TaskForceReadiness.pdf, last accessed January 3, 2008.


“Responsibility for school readiness lies not with children, but with the adults who care for them and the systems that support them. Public policies should seek to provide comprehensive information, resources, and support to all who are responsible for children’s development.”

National Governors Association. Final Report of the NGA Task Force on School Readiness. Building the Foundation for Bright Futures, page 1. Found at: http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0501TaskForceReadiness.pdf, last accessed January 3, 2008.


“The NGA Task Force on School Readiness believes that the family plays the most important role in a young child’s life. Parents have the primary responsibility for nurturing, teaching, and providing for their children. It is the relationship between parent and child that is the most critical for the positive development of children. Children need supportive, nurturing environments. However, the new economy has brought changes in the workforce and in family life. These changes are causing financial, physical, and emotional stresses in families, particularly low-income families… Consequently, the role of parents and the condition of families should be central concerns for policymakers interested in promoting school readiness.”

National Governors Association. Final Report of the NGA Task Force on School Readiness. Building the Foundation for Bright Futures, page 7. Found at: http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0501TaskForceReadiness.pdf, last accessed January 3, 2008.


“Parents play a primary role in the development of their children. Children who experience sensitive, responsive care from a parent perform better academically and emotionally in the early elementary years. At the same time, not surprisingly, financial and emotional stresses negatively impact parents’ well-being and adversely affect their attentiveness and sensitivity to their children. For children who receive most of their care from a parent in the home, it seems clear that providing families with the resources, information, and tools they need is an appropriate approach for promoting school readiness.”

National Governors Association. Final Report of the NGA Task Force on School Readiness. Building the Foundation for Bright Futures, page 13. Found at: http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0501TaskForceReadiness.pdf, last accessed January 3, 2008.



The above recommendations are endorsed by the following:

Athens-Hocking-Vinton 317 Board
Earl Cecil, Executive Director
http://www.317board.org/

Athens County Job and Family Services
Jack Frech, Director
http://jfs.athenscountygovernment.com/

Athens County Children Services
Andrea Reik, Director
http://www.athenschildrenservices.com/

Hocking County Job and Family Services
Robert Smith, Director
350 State Route 664 North
P.O. Box 548
Logan, Ohio 43138-0548

Hocking County Children Services
Julie Mogavero, Director
93 West Hunter Street
Logan, Ohio 43138

Vinton County Job and Family Services & Children Services
Jody Walker, Director
30975 Industry Park Drive
McArthur, Ohio 45651

Feb 1, 2008

Fast & Free Tax Center

Yes, it’s that time of year again: Tax filing season. Anyone who had earned and even some unearned income last year will need to file a 2007 income tax return, or as the IRS calls it, a 1040.

Unfortunately, there are professional tax preparation companies that take advantage of low-income citizens. Many low-income taxpayers are so eager to get their returns that they turn to "refund anticipation loans," pay stub prep, and new this year, prepaid credit cards, so that they do not have to wait to receive their refunds. These services attract those who can least afford them, promising to put money in their pockets the same day they file a return. Sadly, these services come at a steep price.

Refund anticipations loans (RALs) are just that, they are a loan. Taxpayers receives their anticipated refund amount the same day that they file. However, they are not only charged the cost of preparing the return, but are also charged with incredibly high interest rates, ranging from 40 percent to more than 100 percent.

The new prepaid credit card option is really just a refund anticipation loan disguised as a credit card. Users are charged a fee to take cash out at banks and ATMs, in addition to the fees charged to prepare the return.

Pay stub prep is another approach that many companies use to speed up the income tax process. This occurs when they take your last pay stub of the year and prepare your taxes from it. However, this method is never a good idea, as it can often result in inaccurate results leading to the chance of being audited by the IRS.

A free alternative to these high cost, risky refund approaches is the Athens County Fast and Free Tax Assistance Center. IRS-certified volunteers prepare simple, basic individual income tax returns FREE of charge for Athens County residents. There are no hidden fees and no high interest rates. With direct deposit of your refund into a checking or savings account, you can have your ENTIRE refund in as little as 7 to 10 business days.

The Tax Assistance Center is conveniently located at The Work Station in The Plains. Basic returns are prepared by appointment. If you want your refund fast and free, and you have received all of your tax documents, call the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services Fast & Free Tax Assistance Center today to schedule an appointment at 740-797-2523 or 1-800-762-3775.

This is our fifth year operating the Athens County Fast & Free Tax Assistance Center where we have helped nearly 6000 taxpayers file returns free of charge. Call us at 740-797-2523 or 1-800-762-3775 to see what we can do for you.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) centers are available in most states. To find one in you area, visit the IRS Web site or call 1-800-829-1040.

Jan 10, 2008

Low-Income Citizens Should Have a Voice

As the 2008 election campaign goes into full swing, candidates, politicians and the media are all focused on what votes they can count on: independent, senior, and young voters to name a few. However, an important step in the process that is often overlooked is that before somebody can actually vote in most states, they must be registered to vote.

The 1993 National Voter Registration Act was passed to make it easier for citizens to register to vote. It required states to offer voter registration at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Thus, this act is frequently referred to as the “Motor Voter” law. Recognizing that not all citizens have a diver’s license, Congress imposed other provisions in the Act to ensure that all citizens would have an opportunity.

Section 7 of the act “requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at all offices that provide public assistance and all offices that provide state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities.”1 Although this section was designed to make registering to vote easier for low-income citizens, government enforcement has been lax.

A report to the 110th Congress dated June 30, 2007 shows that Ohio received only 42,599 voter registrations from public assistance offices over the two year period of 2004-2006.2 Serving millions of adults annually, public assistance agencies must do a better job in registering low-income citizens to vote.

A total of 882,708 voter registration applications were received over the same time period.3 In contrast, the motor vehicle offices collected 400,562 applications for voter registration.4

Cuyahoga and Franklin counties are the two most populated counties in the state, accounting for about 21 percent of the entire state population. However, these two counties combined only accounted for 2003 voter registration applications or about 4 percent of all voter registration applications received at public assistance offices.5 Montgomery County, on the other hand, has only half the population of Cuyahoga or Franklin County and recorded 7,925 voter registration applications at their public assistance office.6

Clearly, there is a large discrepancy in the services provided to low-income citizens across the state. According to Ohio Revised Code 3503.10, each designated public assistance agency is required to offer each and every client the opportunity to register to vote with “each application for services or assistance, and with each written application or form for recertification, renewal, or change of address.”7 If this section of the law were enforced across the board, more low-income citizens would be registered to vote.

However, depending on the county that you live in, there is no guarantee that clients are being asked if they would like to register. Merely having the applications available for clients that specifically ask for the form is not adhering to the current law. Steps need to be taken to assure that all public assistance agencies are asking clients if they would like to register and including the forms with regular applications for services.

The Secretary of State’s office must monitor designated agencies to ensure compliance with NVRA.

Another option to ensure that all Ohioans are able to cast their vote is to offer Election Day Registration (EDR). “Election Day Registration (EDR), sometimes called 'same day registration' (SDR), allows eligible voters to register and cast a ballot on Election Day.”8

Currently, nine states offer this option with positive voter turnout results: Maine; Minnesota; Wisconsin; Idaho; New Hampshire; Wyoming; Montana; Iowa and North Carolina.9 “More than 787,000 individuals used EDR to register and vote in the 2006 general election.”10

Ohio should seriously consider Election Day Registration or same day registration to increase participation in one of our most important civic duties: voting.

Rebekah Evans, Administrative Intern
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1. U.S. Department of Justice. Civil Rights Division. Voting Section Home Page. About the National Voter Registration Act. Retrieved from: target="_blank">http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/nvra/activ_nvra.htm, last accessed January 8, 2008.

2, 3, 4. U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The Impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 on the Administration of Elections for Federal Office 2005-2006. A Report to the 110th Congress, June 30, 2007, page 34. Retrieved from: http://projectvote.org/fileadmin/ProjectVote/Publications/EAC_NVRArpt2006.pdf, last accessed December 11, 2007.

5,6. E-mail communication on 12/12/07 with Brian Green, Elections Counsel, Office of the Secretary of State. EAC Voter Registration Report.

7. Law Writer. Ohio Laws & Rules. Chapter 3503: Voters = Qualifications; Registration. Retrieved from: http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/3503, last accessed January 9, 2008.

8, 9, 10. Demos: A Network for Ideas and Actions. Voters Win with Election Day Registration. Updated winter 2008. Retrieved from: http://www.demos.org/pubs/Voters%20Win.pdf Last accessed January 9, 2008.