Dec 11, 2009

Holidays can be tough for many families

The holiday season can be a very hard time for families who are struggling to get by, as Christmas presents and special dinners often result in more bills that they can’t afford to pay.

Local organizations such as the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center in Lottridge are stepping in to help these families, though, and are trying to bring them some holiday cheer.

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, the Lottridge center held a special Thanksgiving free meal along with its food box distribution. More than 150 people enjoyed the Thanksgiving lunch, and more than 50 families were able to pick up food boxes at the pantry that day.

Coolville residents Valerie Magill and Jason Simms were among those at the center for the Thanksgiving meal. Magill also volunteered to work at the food pantry for the day.

“I like helping people,” Magill said. She formerly worked as a nurse, but had to stop working in that field after she sustained a serious back injury.

“I have been off of work for a year,” she said. Her back has gotten better, but her doctor does not want her to go back to the type of work she used to do because it would most likely cause another injury. She also has other health problems relating to her battle with cancer four years ago and other health issues.

Currently, she receives Ohio Works First cash assistance and volunteers at the food pantry for the work hours she has to complete in order to receive the assistance.

Simms, meanwhile, has his own serious health problems stemming from a car accident that he was in when he was 10 years old. He was in a coma for 10 days after the accident, and his brain stem was injured. He has had health problems ever since the accident, and is unable to work.

Magill and Simms have four kids between them, and they survive on the monthly income of $455 she receives in cash assistance and $700 he receives from Social Security.

“We struggle to get by,” Magill said. They pay $510 per month in rent, and have very little money to pay all of their expenses.

“My self-esteem, it’s been down,” Magill added. She would like to work a full-time job again and has been looking for work. Her car needs repaired, though, and the Athens County Job and Family Services Prevention, Retention and Contingency (PRC) program that used to pay for car repairs for people who needed their vehicles for work is no longer operating. That program was eliminated earlier this year due to cuts in state funding.

Magill and Simms are not sure how they will pay for Christmas presents for the children or pay for other holiday and winter expenses. But they are thankful for everything they do have and for the programs such as the one at Lottridge that provide assistance. They are also hopeful that things will improve for them soon.

A few more comments from people at the Thanksgiving lunch at the Lottridge Community Center

Gordon Bolin often attends the Wednesday lunches at the center, as he enjoys the meal and the chance to visit with neighbors.

His wife works and he receives Social Security, and they are able pay their bills each month. Money is tight, though, as their income is not great and they also help to support family members living overseas. Bolin grows food for his family in his garden every year, and he also shares much of his produce with others at the weekly meals in Lottridge.

Linda Congrove and her husband live in Trimble, but drive over to Lottridge each week to volunteer. She helps prepare and serve the free lunch, while he helps out at the food pantry.

“Some of the people here, it might be the only meal they get all week, other than opening a can of beans,” Congrove said. Some people at the meals are just lonely and need someone to talk to, she added. Congrove likes to volunteer at the center because everyone is always friendly, and she knows that a lot of people are facing hard times and need a little help.

Lisa Roberts, director of the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center, said that the food pantry sees more and more people who need help every week. She also runs food pantries in Torch and Racine, and said those sites are also seeing an increase in numbers.

At Racine, for example, the average number of people served over the last few months has climbed to about 100 families each week. The holidays and the cold weather will cause that number to continue to increase, Roberts said. The week before Thanksgiving, for example, the Racine center served 165 families.

In order to keep up with the increase in demand, the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center is looking for donations to help these families in need. The center is also looking for donations of Christmas presents that will be handed out to low-income families to give to their children this year.

For more information on the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center or to donate gifts to the center, call 740-667-0684.

Dec 8, 2009

Why is "Welfare" a dirty word?

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines the word “welfare” as a noun as the state of doing well, especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity.

“Welfare” is defined as an adjective as: (1) of, relating to, or concerned with welfare and especially with improvement of the welfare of disadvantaged social groups, and (2) receiving public welfare benefits.

Being concerned about improving someone’s welfare, especially a child’s or that of someone who is disabled or elderly would seem to be a good public policy. So why then do our elected officials avoid characterizing any attempt to improve someone’s “good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity” as “welfare”? Why is it that “welfare” is so despised in the context of improving the welfare of disadvantaged social groups?

Is it fear? Fear seems to be behind many attempts to stereotype groups of people. Aren't we stereotyping poor people when we demonize all of them as cheats or undeserving? Do we stereotype poor people so that we can dehumanize and ignore them? Are we afraid of the 6.3 million children living in extreme poverty in the United States?

Is it selfishness? The federal government uses tax dollars to provide a subsidy of $250 billion per year to those employed people still lucky enough to receive employer-subsidized health insurance. The federal government also uses an additional $80 billion tax dollars per year to provide subsidies to homeowners who deduct mortgage interest. According to Webster’s, these benefits are “welfare.” These welfare benefits alone, and there are many others, amount to 20 times the welfare subsidy provided to the poorest families among us.

Are we afraid that we might have to share? At some point, it was decided that it was good public policy to provide more than $320 billion per year in welfare benefits to employed people with subsidized health insurance who own homes with mortgages up to $1 million dollars, in order to improve their “good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity.” Wouldn't it also be good public policy to improve the welfare of those less fortunate?

We must acknowledge that “welfare” is not a dirty word, and that it is provided in many forms to many different recipients. We need to refocus our assistance toward the poorest of the poor first.

By Gregg Oakley
Athens County Job and Family Services Deputy Director

Dec 2, 2009

Job Fair for Veterans held in Athens

A large crowd of veterans and their spouses turned out for a recent Job, Career and Information Fair in Athens. Veterans at the event talked about how the country's economic problems have hurt their jobs and led to layoffs, and discussed how hard it can be to find work today. Click here to read more about the Job Fair and a few of the veterans who attended.

Nov 24, 2009

Columbus Dispatch series examines how state budget cuts have hurt Ohio families

The Columbus Dispatch recently published an outstanding series of articles on how state budget cuts have hurt Ohio families living in poverty.
Click here for a link to the page on the Columbus Dispatch Web site for information on the series of articles, as well as links to the articles and a video report on one story. We have also saved each of the articles as PDF files, and you can click on the following links for these articles:

Click here for the short article that introduces the series. It has information on all of the subjects examined in the series.
Click here for an article on how budget cuts are affecting the most vulnerable Ohio residents. This article looks in particular at an Athens County family hit hard by the country's economic problems.
Click here for an article on how families in Ohio are digging the graves for their deceased family members and friends in order to save money on funeral expenses. This article also looks in particular at an Athens County family.
Click here for an article on how budget cuts are hurting programs that help the homeless.
Click here for an article examining how budget cuts have reduced the number of after-school programs for children, and how this is hurting children in Ohio.
Click here for an article on how budget cuts are reducing and in some cases wiping out programs to help and protect the elderly.
Click here for an article on how budget cuts are hurting programs designed to help the mentally ill.

Nov 16, 2009

Digging their own graves

“We can’t afford to live, and now we can’t even afford to die.”
That’s what one Athens County resident told me when I asked about funeral expenses for families living in poverty. Believe it or not, some families in Athens County are now digging the graves of their loved ones in order to save money on funeral expenses.

It does not happen every day, and many cemeteries in the county won’t allow just anyone to dig a grave. Also, one local funeral home director told me that some people offer to dig the graves of their deceased family members and friends as a gesture for their families, and see it as part of the grieving process. To be sure, though, many families in Athens County and around the country are digging the graves simply because they cannot afford the funeral costs and have to find ways to save money.

I talked recently with several people who have been involved in helping families get crews together to dig graves. Sometimes the crews have equipment, other times the family members and friends are digging with shovels. This work would be difficult at any time, but it is made worse by the fact that these individuals are going through the grieving process for their deceased family member or friend at the same time.

Along the same lines, some families cannot afford any type of funeral for a loved one. The state of Ohio used to pay up to $750 for burial costs for an indigent individual, but the funding for that program was wiped out in 2001.
Cities and townships have to pay up to $750 out of their own general funds for the burial of an unclaimed body, but there is no set law in the state for burying the body of an individual whose family or friends can’t pay for the funeral.

Many cities or townships will pay up to $750 for indigent funeral costs, and sometimes the local government groups will pay more than $1,000 for the funeral costs. Sometimes the local government will only pay the costs if the body is cremated. And sadly, sometimes the local governments will not pay anything and do not have any policy in place for burying indigent bodies.

In addition, many funeral homes will not accept payment plans for funeral expenses anymore. Their costs have gone up over the years, and they say that while they do their best to work with low-income families, the payment plans are no longer feasible for them.

All of this leaves families digging graves to save money, holding fundraisers to pay burial expenses, donating bodies to science because they can’t afford a funeral, taking out high-interest loans to pay funeral expenses or just leaving the bodies unclaimed so there will be no funeral and so that the local government will be forced to pay for burial.

Our society has a hard enough time treating people with respect while they are alive, and now we are turning our backs on people living in poverty when they die. The federal, state or local governments need to do something about this problem and help out these families in need. This is a growing problem in Athens County and around the country, and it’s a sad commentary on our society.

We can’t just stand by and do nothing while our neighbors dig their own graves.

Nov 10, 2009

State leaders need to support House Bill 308

House Bill 308 is a responsible way for Ohio leaders to raise the revenue needed to properly fund the programs that are in place to help families in need. Athens County Job and Family Services Director Jack Frech recently wrote an editorial column explaining why House Bill 308 is so important and why it makes sense for Ohio. Click here to read the editorial.

Nov 3, 2009

Annual Report details how demand for assistance has increased in the last year

"Our annual report tells a story of rising demands and shrinking resources. Caseloads for financial and medical assistance are growing to reflect the general economic downturn. Cuts in services reflect the consequences of state budget reductions...Unfortunately, the bottom line is that life for our poorest citizens has gotten worse," Jack Frech, Athens County Job and Family Services director. Frech's letter to the citizens of Athens County is included in the newly published 2008-2009 Annual Report, which also features brief reports on all of our programs, overall budget information for the agency, comparisons that show how caseloads have dramatically increased in some areas and state funding has significantly decreased in others, and statistics on Athens County. Click here to read the report.

Oct 28, 2009

More and more people visit local food pantries each week

Like a lot of people, Norma Cooper is worried about how her family is going to make it through the winter.
She and her husband live in Athens County on a fixed income, and they have a large family to support. Not all of the children still live at home, but some do and now there are grandchildren to help take care of, too.
Norma and her husband live on a little over $1,100 a month, and have a difficult time paying their bills. They heat their home with propane, and Norma knows it is going to be hard to pay for propane this winter, in addition to paying the other costs.
She is one of the hundreds of Athens County residents who benefit from the Lottridge Community Choice Food Center in Lottridge. Norma, along with two of her children and one grandchild, were at the center recently to enjoy the weekly free lunch and pick up some supplies.
The center provides a free meal at noon every Wednesday, in addition to providing food boxes, clothing, health care information and a wide range of services for area residents in need.
Lisa Roberts, director of the center, said that as more and more people fall into hard times in southeast Ohio, the number of new visitors to the facility increases every week. She often sees more than 100 families at food pantry and free lunch events, and said the lines include people who have never had to visit food pantries before.
Norma and her husband, for example, have always worked hard and provided for their family. Today, though, his health problems and the fact that they are getting older has them on a tight, fixed income where they are forced to rely on assistance programs and facilities such as the Lottridge Community Choice Food Center.
“It’s really great. It helps us out a lot,” Cooper said.
Jenny Lance volunteers at the center, and also brings her children along to work.
“I love to help,” Jenny said. “It’s not like a job. It’s just helping people.” One of her older children lives on his own and is getting by, but has no insurance and no money to pay for the medical care he needs, Jenny explained. Her son, like many people with no insurance, does not take care of different health problems as he should, simply because he can’t afford it, she said.
She sees people at the center every week who have no health insurance and do not have enough money to pay their bills. Jenny added that too many people today are forced to make choices people should never have to make, such as choosing between buying and medicine or buying food, or deciding between buying food for their pets or paying their utility bills.
And while Jenny and her family face their own struggles in paying all of the bills, she enjoys helping out at the Lottridge Community Choice Food Center.
Southeast Ohio residents and people and all across the country are facing desperate times today, but when area residents stop in at the Lottridge facility, they are able to relax, visit with each other and get a few things that they need in order to help them make it through another month.

Oct 21, 2009

New report, "TANF: Failing America's Poorest Children," released

At a time when the federal government is giving banks $700 billion in bailout funds, our country has 6.3 million children living in extreme poverty and we are doing little to help them.
The updated report, “TANF: Failing America’s Poorest Children,” details how cash assistance and food programs are underfunded and do not get families up to even half of the federal poverty level. Shockingly, over the last 11 years, only three states have increased their cash assistance funding to keep up with cost of living increases, and 23 states have not increased their cash assistance funding levels at all.
In Ohio, more than 160,000 children currently rely on the Ohio Works First cash assistance program. At the same time, Ohio has nearly 245,000 children who are living in extreme poverty, which means their family income is at or below 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
Welfare reform placed strict requirements on families receiving public assistance. But this newly-released report shows how people on public assistance fall further behind every year while our government actually reduces cash assistance funding in some states and turns its back on poor people all across America. Government leaders often argue that they do not have the money to increase TANF funding or other programs to help poor people. They say they have to make “tough choices,” but the choices almost always leave poor children out in the cold. Meanwhile, the government chooses to spend money in other areas:
· Financial institutions are allowed to hand out billions of dollars of the federal bailout money to pay for bonuses and special compensation for employees.
· The federal government chose to use more than $17 billion to bailout the auto industry. That $17 billion is more than the entire annual federal appropriation for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.
· States such as Ohio have chosen in recent years to roll back income taxes at a time when state budgets are losing money and welfare programs that poor families rely on are being cut.
· The federal government just chose to spend $79 million to see if there is water on the moon, while families all across the country don’t have water in their own homes.
The assistance programs that are supposed to help our neighbors are failing miserably simply because our government won’t adequately fund these programs. Too many families are going hungry. Too many children are living in extreme poverty. We need to greatly increase the funding for programs to help poor people. We need to choose to do the right thing.

Sep 18, 2009

RCC crew members discuss the program

Brandan Cox and Eric Platt both worked very hard this summer, but they enjoyed the work they did for the Recovery Conservation Corps (RCC) in Athens County.
Nearly 40 young men and women worked for the RCC in Athens County over the summer, fixing up state parks, building a canoe access ramp into the Hocking River and making other improvements to public property. The crew members came from different backgrounds, but worked together effectively in the program, which was funded by the federal government’s economic stimulus package. Athens County Job and Family Services, Hocking College and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources coordinated the program in the county.
The RCC members at Strouds Run State Park included members who were experienced in working outdoors as well as those who were learning on the job. Some were studying natural resources, while others were majoring in other fields, such as accounting and education. For at least one of the members, it was a first job. The crew members all agreed that they were thankful to have jobs that they enjoyed and that paid well.
“We’ve all worked hard and we’ve all gotten along pretty well,” said Brandan Cox, crew leader at Strouds Run State Park. Cox said it was a good experience for him to be the leader. He added that the crew members worked hard and fast, and got their projects finished much more quickly than anyone anticipated.
Eric Platt, RCC crew leader at Hocking College, said that the program is a great opportunity for him, especially at a time when summer jobs can be scarce.
“Also, the pay is great and it really goes a long with what I want to do after I graduate. It’s like a resume builder to me, and it’s giving me leadership experience,” Platt said. He added that he loves working outside.
“I also get to take pride in our work because we are fixing up the area and I am fixing up my school,” Platt said. His favorite projects so far have included building a roost for a Red Tailed Hawk at the Nature Center and making improvements to the trails and boardwalks across campus.
“We’re also getting 10 college credits, and that’s helping me out a lot,” Platt said, adding that the extra hours will help him graduate on time. One of the most important benefits of the program for him is to receive the leadership experience.
“This experience has given me some challenges to help me advance as a leader,” he said. Platt plans to use the leadership skills and other skills he learned when he graduates and enters the job market.
“What I really want to do is to start out taking kids or adjudicated youth out onto backpacking trips, and then work my way up to taking adults on more adventurous trips. I want to spend my time in the wilderness,” Platt said. His time in the RCC has helped prepare him for that work, and he is thankful that he had this opportunity.
“I hope they keep doing this because I think it’s a great program,” Platt said.
Jim Batey, RCC coordinator for Hocking College, said he has heard positive comments from the RCC participants at all of the work sites, and added that he is very pleased with the success of the program in Athens County.
“I think it’s been a fantastic experience,” Batey said. “It’s putting people to work doing the public good, and it’s also giving them some incentive and experience.”

Shown in the top photo (from left to right) are RCC crew members Brandan Cox and Doug Hays watching a tree fall at Strouds Run State Park. Shown in the bottom photo, also at Strouds Run State Park, are RCC crew members (from left to right) Brittany Burdette, Ashley Dennison, Brandan Cox and Patrick Dailey.

Sep 17, 2009

Detailing several of the projects the RCC crew members worked on this summer

The Recovery Conservation Corps (RCC) program made a positive difference in Athens County this summer, fixing up public properties and allowing young men and women to receive training and paid work experience.
The federal government’s economic stimulus package provided the funding through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) program for the RCC in Athens County and all across Ohio. Locally, Athens County Job and Family Services coordinated the program with Hocking College and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
Jim Batey, RCC coordinator for Hocking College, explained that the work crews completed numerous improvement projects around the county.
“We’ve been doing a lot of invasive species control at Gifford State Forest,” Batey said. The RCC crews also worked on projects such as clearing trails and improving the timber stand in the forest by cutting dead branches off the trees.
At the Waterloo Wildlife Area, the crew members cleared trails to make them easier for the public to use, and picked up hundreds of tires that had been dumped throughout the property. The RCC is using grant funding to properly dispose of the tires.
“Some of the trails, you couldn’t tell were they were before,” Batey said, adding that the RCC members did excellent work on the trails.
At Strouds Run State Park, the crew members cleared the spillway area for the dam. The crew members took down at least 20 trees, and then ran them through the chipper as part of the work in clearing the spillway. The crew members also did work in other parts of the park, including renovating the restrooms and the bathhouse.
At Lake Snowden, the RCC member put up signs on the new horse trail system and made improvements to the trail, renovated the shelter houses, made improvements at the Sauber House facility, worked on the grounds at the fish hatchery and did general park maintenance.
At Hocking College, the crew members improved nature trails, replaced bridges on the trails, worked on the property around the reflection pond, and did general maintenance work such as weed eating and painting.
Along the Athens County Bikepath, the RCC members put in a new access point for canoes to get into the Hocking River. The access point is near Lemaster Road and Hamley Run Road near The Plains.
Hocking College’s heavy equipment program did the site work, Rocky Boots donated materials for the project and the RCC members did much of the work, Batey explained.
“We formed and poured the concrete for the canoe access,” Batey said. “It was real labor intensive…they did a great job.”
At all of the work sites, the RCC members showed a lot of pride and worked very hard, Batey said.
“I think the main thing they learn is working together in a team situation,” he said. The RCC members had the opportunity to work closely with people from different backgrounds and with different personalities, and that experience will help them throughout their lives.
Shown in the above photo is the new canoe access point for the Hocking River near Hamley Run Road and Lemaster Road near The Plains. Shown in the lower photo is RCC crew member Craig Hays clearing brush in the spillway area for the dam at Strouds Run State Park.

Sep 16, 2009

Update on Recovery Conservation Corps in Athens County

Nearly 40 young men and women spent the summer fixing up public properties in Athens County as part of the Recovery Conservation Corps (RCC).

The federal government’s economic stimulus package provided the funding through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) program for the RCC in Athens County and all across Ohio. Locally, Athens County Job and Family Services has been coordinating the program with Hocking College and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

The RCC participants were divided into five work crews placed at Strouds Run State Park, Lake Snowden Park, Gifford State Forest, Waterloo Wildlife Area and Hocking College. The work crews also did a few special projects in the county, such as putting in a canoe ramp for the Hocking River near The Plains.

The members all did important work, earned supportive service funding, received special training, gained experience that will help them in their careers and, in some cases, earned up to 10 college credit hours. The college credit hours were through Hocking College, and were in areas such as orientation to careers in natural resources, wood shop instruction, supervision/leadership, chainsaw operations and maintenance, recreational equipment operation and maintenance, First Aid and CPR.

“All of the participants seem pretty pleased with the program,” said Sue Pepper-Warga, who has been coordinating the RCC program for Athens County Job and Family Services. Over the summer, Pepper-Warga has seen the RCC participants become more confident workers, and she has seen how the program has helped them in numerous ways.

“For some people, it probably would have been impossible to continue on with their studies at Hocking College because of financial circumstances,” Pepper-Warga said. “This has been a big boost for them.” The participants also benefited tremendously from the work experience and the opportunity to add to their resume.

“Some of them have never had any work experiences before,” Pepper-Warga said. “It’s been really great. Our retention rate is tremendous.”

Read more about the RCC program in Athens County in additional posts that will be placed on the blog later this week.
Both photos show RCC crew members working at Strouds Run State Park. Shown in the top photo is Patrick Dailey, while Brandan Cox and Ashley Dennison are shown in the bottom photo.

Sep 4, 2009

Waiting for assistance

Julie is an Athens County resident who proudly worked for the same company for the last 15 years. She loved her job and the people she worked with, but recently lost her job because she does not yet have her GED.
Julie is working to earn her GED and get back on her feet, but has not been able to receive the help yet that she needs from the safety net programs that are supposed to be in place for Ohio residents. She has to wait at least two weeks just to talk to someone about the Food Assistance program, and she is also waiting for unemployment assistance and other types of assistance.
But while she is forced to wait for help, it's nearly impossible for her to pay her bills and buy groceries for her children. Click here to read more about Julie.

Aug 25, 2009

U.S. Census count will be very important for Athens County

As part of our effort to promote the 2010 U.S. Census Count in southeastern Ohio, Athens County Job and Family Services set up booths at the Athens County Fair and Nelsonville's Parade of the Hills in August. At the booths, we handed out informational materials on the Census, let area residents see samples of the very short Census forms they will be asked to fill out next year, and raffled off two "Athens County Come To Your Census" cornhole sets. We also registered people to vote and provided information on the numerous programs that Athens County Job and Family Services offers for area residents.
Shown in the photos are (top right photo) Nelsonville resident Edith McGee with the cornhole set she won at the Parade of the Hills, and (bottom photo) Athens County Job and Family Services Director Jack Frech and Program Administrator Warren Haydon in the booth at the Athens County Fair.
For more information on how the U.S. Census count will affect the people of Athens County and why the Census count is so important, click here or scroll down and check out some of the other articles and videos on this blog.

Jul 30, 2009

Why the 2010 U.S. Census is so important

Here is a video produced by the U.S. Census Bureau about the 2010 Census, which will take place on April 1, 2010. It is vitally important to have everyone in Athens County and all across the country counted in the Census. Every year, more than $300 billion in federal funds are awarded to states and communities based on U.S. Census data.
The Census information is used as a guide for community planning efforts such as where to build new roads, hospitals and schools. It is also used for funding programs such as emergency food shelters, public transportation, senior citizens programs, social service programs and planning for development.
The Census figures also determine how many seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as the redistricting of state legislatures, city councils and voting districts.

Jul 2, 2009

Clients face numerous challenges

Many of our clients face a wide range of obstacles that make life very difficult. Reta and Jerald, for example, are a Nelsonville couple raising grandchildren and one great-grandchild while dealing with health problems. Jill is a single mother who is unable to work anymore because of her own health problems. Ashley is an 18-year-old single mother who just earned her GED and is preparing for college in the fall. They are all facing significant challenges, but they are doing whatever they can to overcome these barriers and provide for their families. Click here to read about Reta and Jerald, click here to read about Jill and click here to read about Ashley or watch a video of her telling her story. Click here for several other stories and videos explaining how our clients are overcoming challenges, and how much it would improve their lives if the state would provide more financial assistance.

Jun 26, 2009

Fighting for health insurance

Margaret and her husband do not receive health insurance through their jobs, they do not qualify for Medicaid and they are unable to purchase health insurance for the family because their daughter has Down Syndrome. The lack of insurance has meant that Margaret and her husband don't go to the doctor as often as they should and that their daughter has not been able to take part in the therapy programs that have been recommended for her.

It's a nearly impossible situation, but Margaret does not let it get her down. She has been speaking out to try make it easier for families in Ohio and across the country to receive health insurance and the health care they need. Click here to read more about Margaret and her family.

Jun 18, 2009

Ceremony honors GED graduates

More than 80 students graduated from the GED program at The Work Station during the 2008-2009 academic year. A special ceremony was held recently for this year's GED graduates, and the event was highlighted by the inspiring story of new graduate Gilbert Norris. In the photo on the left, Gilbert Norris is shown receiving his degree from Scott Hatfield. The photo on the right shows graduate Tabatha Button and her daughter after the ceremony.
Click here to read about the ceremony, see more photos of the event and learn what Norris, Button and several of the other graduates had to say about earning their degrees.

Jun 11, 2009

Local hotel donates televisions to Athens County residents

The Hampton Inn of Athens recently donated between 50 and 60 televisions to local charitable organizations to give to area residents in need. Athens County Job and Family Services received six of the televisions and gave them to senior citizens in the county who needed new sets but could not afford them. Click here to read about the donation, which made a positive difference in the lives of numerous Athens County residents.

Jun 1, 2009

Program gave out more than 2,700 computers in Athens County

The Computer Connections program allowed thousands of Athens County families to receive free computers, training and Internet service over the last eight years. The program, which was the result of a successful partnership between Athens County Job and Family Services and Hocking College, had to be eliminated earlier this year because of state budget cuts. Click here to read more about the program.

May 29, 2009

Athens County Come To Your Census

Community leaders met earlier this week to begin planning for the 2010 Census in Athens County. The Census results will be very important for Athens County, and all residents need to be counted. For more information on the meeting and the different ways the Census figures will impact the county, click here.

May 28, 2009

Director testifies before Ohio Senate Subcommittee on issues of cash assistance, budget cuts and school fees

Athens County Job and Family Services Director Jack Frech testified before an Ohio Senate Subcommittee on Wednesday, May 20 on the issues of increasing cash assistance for state residents living in poverty, how the state budget cuts are making it more difficult to serve our clients and why school fees need to be eliminated.
To read Frech's testimony, or to read over the materials he presented at the budget hearing, click here.

May 22, 2009

TJ's amazing story

TJ is a 26-year-old Athens County resident who has overcome a very rare and dangerous medical condition. His family receives Medicaid, and they are thankful for all of the ways that the program helps them. At the same time, they see several other ways that it could provide assistance to TJ. For example, TJ's family cannot afford to add a bathroom onto the house that would allow TJ to take a full bath or shower. The Medicaid payments also do not pay for many of the supplies he needs, such as a simple straps and a new air mattress. To read about TJ and his family, click here.
To read stories about other clients and the struggles they are facing and overcoming, or to watch videos about a few of our clients, click here.
TJ is shown in the photo with his neice, Paris. Photo by Rachel Mummey.

May 14, 2009

Hundreds attend Job Fair in Athens

Hundreds of people from all walks of life took part in the fifth annual Job Fair at the Athens Community Center.
The April 29 event attracted people who had recently lost their jobs due to layoffs, individuals who were looking to move into new careers, high school and college graduates hoping to land their first jobs and many people who desperately need to find work.
The Job Fair, which is an annual event, was sponsored by The Work Station in The Plains and the One-Stop Employment and Training Centers from Hocking, Vinton, Perry and Meigs counties, along with the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce. This year, more than 400 people attended and met with representatives from nearly 80 employers and educational institutions at the event. More than half of those attending were from Athens County, but the Job Fair also attracted a large number of people from Hocking County, along with people from nine other southern Ohio counties and West Virginia.
Rows upon rows of tables were set up in the gymnasium at the Athens Community Center for businesses and organizations to set up their own information booths. Several colleges, universities and military organizations were also on hand to discuss the programs and services that they offer. Job seekers walked up and down the lines of booths, stopping to ask about the type of job opportunities available and, in many cases, turning in resumes or filling out applications.
Here are a few comments from people at the Job Fair:
• One area resident who is losing her job at Ohio University due to layoffs explained that she wanted to keep working until the time her position was supposed to end. She was told that she should not come to work anymore, though, so now she is not sure what to do. She is diligently looking for her next job and is considering part-time work until she can find full-time work. While she is happy that the university is providing assistance, she is also very disappointed in losing a job that she enjoyed. In addition, she was planning to use the tuition waiver to send her children to college in a few years, but without the job at the university, she will have to find another way to pay for college.
• Another woman, when asked what type of work she was looking for, just replied “anything.” She needs any sort of job she can find right now. She said she is considering going to college to study radiology, but is not sure if she can make that happen or not.
• One Ohio University student is earning his master’s degree in June and is looking for work. He also attended a Job Fair in Columbus on the same day, and said he does not have too many leads yet on work.
• One former small business owner in Athens was also at the Job Fair looking for work. He filled out applications for jobs he had never even thought of applying for before. He is not sure what type of work he wants to do next, or what jobs he is qualified for, but he needs the work and hopes to find a position soon.
• One man who was looking for work also discussed the credit card debt problem that he and his wife are facing. The debt is from her first marriage, and he said it should not even be their responsibility. It is causing them numerous problems, though, and collection agencies have been calling the house. He needs some help to get rid of the debt, and is looking into different options. He is also looking for a new job.
• Several young people were well dressed and eager to shake hands and ask questions about job opportunities. Several employers commented that they were impressed with the quality of applicants at the Job Fair. One woman said she did not know what to expect before she arrived, but she talked with two very strong applicants who will definitely be considered for jobs that her company needs to fill.
• Many of the applicants at the Job Fair said they are worried about how they are going to pay their bills and keep their homes while they are looking for work. At the same time, though, many were also filled with hope, confident they would find the jobs they need.
While the Job Fair is an annual event, The Work Station in The Plains is open every week, Monday through Friday to help area residents find work. Career counselors help to connect individuals with local companies and organizations looking for work, and a job posting board gives details on openings in the community. Training programs and assistance with college are also available through The Work Station. For more information on how the different programs at The Work Station can help you, call 797-1405.

Apr 15, 2009

Ohio needs to eliminate school fees and provide a truly free public education

A movement to eliminate public school fees in Ohio is gaining momentum, and now has the support of a state representative from southern Ohio.
School fees are a longstanding problem in Ohio that create a serious educational barrier for many families. It is common for public schools in Ohio to charge families $25 to $50 per child simply to attend school. Those fees are often in addition to the requirements that students bring in supplies that cost between $10 and $50 per child.
Many Ohio families do not have enough money to meet their own basic needs, and have a nearly impossible time trying to pay the school fees.
Advocates for families have been calling for the fees to be eliminated, and now Rep. Debbie Phillips, who represents the 92nd Ohio House District, is backing the proposal to have the fees eliminated. Phillips is writing an amendment to the state’s education bill, and hopes to gain support for it in the Ohio House. All Ohio residents are asked to contact their state representatives and express their support for this legislation.
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 restrictions. These fees also are an extremely regressive type of tax that hurts those children in families who are already having the greatest challenges succeeding in school.
Now that state leaders are making changes to the school funding system in Ohio, it is the perfect time to eliminate these fees and create a truly free public education system.

Jennifer Pierce, a single mom living in Tuppers Plains, has three children in school and simply can’t pay the fees all at once at the beginning of each school year.
“I just try to pay one at a time,” Pierce said. The school would like her to pay all of the fees right away, but she is allowed to spread out the payments throughout the year.
“They don’t care as long as they get paid by the end of the school year,” Pierce said. If the fees are not paid by the end of the year, the district can hold onto the students’ grade cards, she added.
It’s also expensive paying for all of the school supplies, Pierce said. One year, she had to send in expensive extra supplies such as a roll of film and a package of copy paper, and it was hard to come up with the money.
“Plus, if they play sports, you have to pay for that,” Pierce said. A $50 fee allows students in the district to play sports, but the parents still have to pay for cleats and other items for their children. Most field trips are paid for, but the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. this year cost $500 and was simply out of reach for Pierce’s son.
“He couldn’t go because I didn’t have the money to pay for him to go,” she said.

“I think the schools should be accountable. They should be the ones that have to take care of that,” Coolville resident Tasha Adams said about the school fees. She has two children in school, and has a hard enough time paying all of her monthly expenses.
The school fees average around $20 per child for her family, plus all of the money that is spent on supplies like paper towels and tissues.
“When we were younger, we just needed the notebooks, the pens and pencils, you know certain things like that,” Adams said. Today, though, the schools ask parents to send in items like paper towels, tissues and hand sanitizers.
“I just don’t think that’s right at all,” she said.

Lisa Roberts, who lives in Coolville and runs the Friends and Neighbors Community Food Center in Lottridge, said that school fees are very hard on her clients, and they were also tough on her family.
“I raised six kids and school fees kill you. They are very, very hard to come up with,” Roberts said. Many families can’t put money aside for the fees because they don’t have the extra $35 or more.
“They keep telling your kid over and over, ‘Your school fees haven’t been paid.’ They ask in front of the class,” Roberts said. “It’s horrible for the child and it’s bad for the parent, too, because you’re already feeling bad enough that you can’t come up with the money.”
The teachers do what they can to be nice to the children, but they have to ask for the fees because the schools have to collect them, Roberts said.
“Sometimes they won’t give you your report card if you can’t come up with a school fee,” Roberts said, adding that her children were faced with that problem several times.
“Plus, you have to send all those supplies. (The list of supplies) is enormous. They want you to bring all kinds of stuff,” Roberts said. The list of supplies often includes several boxes of tissues, even though most families she knows can’t afford tissues and just use toilet paper instead, Roberts said.
“You can’t very well send toilet paper in to your teacher,” she added.

One grandmother from Athens County is currently raising three of her grandchildren, and also has a difficult time with the school fees, which cost her $25 per child. She and her husband live on a fixed income, and it is difficult to pay these fees along with other extra costs that come up with children throughout the year.
“I know they need the money, I’m not saying they don’t,” she said. But for families that are just getting by, it is extremely difficult to have to pay these fees, she added.
School pictures can be another big cost during the year, she said, as some packages cost as much as $45. She can’t afford a big package of pictures, and wonders if she will be able to afford any of the pictures next year.

Catherine Hogsett of Glouster lives on a very tight, fixed budget and can’t afford the cost of school supplies each year.
She has a back injury and is unable to work, and lives on $400 a month in child support, along with Food Assistance Program funding. The elementary school her children attend did not charge fees this year, but did ask for supplies, Hogsett said.
“It was over almost $200,” she said about the supplies for her children.
“They had to have reams of paper, they had to have four or five boxes of tissues,” Hogsett said. Her mother helped her pay for the supplies, or she would not have been able to afford them all, Hogsett said. Her son also wants to play baseball this spring, and there is another $25 fee to be on a team, she said.
“I really think that any help that can be given to people, especially people who are on assistance, for education would be beneficial,” Hogsett said. She added that by helping people pay for their educations today, it helps everyone tomorrow as the graduates will be able to get better jobs and bring positive benefits to their communities.

Apr 1, 2009

Director and clients discuss Ohio's public assistance programs

State leaders should focus on basic needs

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, wrote an opinion piece that was published in newspapers around Ohio recently about the crisis facing the state's emergency food network and about what state leaders can to to help people living in poverty. Click here to read Hamler-Fugitt's article, as published in The Athens NEWS.

Mar 23, 2009

Ohio needs to eliminate school fees

One issue that is largely forgotten in Ohio's school funding debate is the issue of fees that parents have to pay to send their children to public schools. Athens County Job and Family Services is asking Ohio legislators to eliminate these fees in order to help Ohio families. Jack Frech, Athens County Job and Family Services director, had a letter about this issue published in The Columbus Dispatch on March 17. Click here to read the letter.

Mar 18, 2009

Testimony presented to Ohio House of Representatives subcommittee

House Finance and Appropriations Committee Human
Services Subcommittee
Testimony of Jack Frech, Director,
Athens County Department of Job and Family Services
March 17, 2009

Here is a link to an Ohio Works First fact sheet presented with the testimony.

Here is a link to a document telling the stories of a few of our clients. This document was also presented with the testimony.

Chairwoman Brown, ranking Member Burke and members of the subcommittee. I am Jack Frech, Director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services.
I am here today to request that the benefit level for the Ohio Works First Program be increased by at least $100 a month. According to the Governor’s budget proposal, the average OWF benefit is $358 per month. Under his plan, these families will only receive increased benefits of about $19 a month over the next two years. Even when combined with food stamps, the total benefits still are only slightly over half of the federal poverty level.

Today in Ohio, there are more than 140,000 children who depend on the OWF program. Their families are faced with daily struggles to meet the most very basic of human needs. They are often hungry, cold and living in substandard housing. It must be remembered that these are the families who are living by all of the rules of the “reformed welfare” system. They have work requirements, time limits, and strict eligibility requirements. We go to great lengths to verify that they are dirt poor, then we give them half of what we know they need to live on. I know of no other government policy which is as intentionally harmful to children.

Half of these children live with grandparents or other relatives. In a typical situation, a grandmother would receive only about $259 a month for the full time care of a child. That amount compares to:
· An average per child per month cost for childcare is about $450.
· Monthly foster care payments are about $600.
· Monthly payments for the Early Learning Initiative are over $1000.

Intervention programs to help these families such as job training, education , parenting classes, counseling and substance abuse treatment are all unlikely to succeed when so much energy must be focused simply on surviving. When parents are worried about how they are going to feed their children or where they are going to sleep at night, it makes it difficult to succeed in these other programs.

Currently, only about one third of the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families block grant is spent on direct cash assistance through the OWF program. While an additional $100 would not solve the problems these families face, it would make a huge difference in their daily struggle.

I would also ask that the committee restore the funds the Governor’s budget cut from the Counties. These funds have been used to provide a wide range of essential services to low income families as well as offer job and education support. Our agency is losing $1.3 million and 34 staff positions with the following consequences;
· Cuts in eligibility workers and job counselors will increase caseloads by at least 25%
· Work support programs to repair autos, provide gas vouchers for new hires, and pay for training, tools and uniforms have been eliminated.
· Nurses to conduct home visits to help families whose caretakers are disabled have been eliminated.
· A very successful dental access and other supportive health programs have been eliminated.
· A program to provide computers for low income children is gone.
· Contracts for Child welfare services, domestic violence intervention, home delivered meals, summer education camp for poor kids and Big Brothers Big Sisters have been terminated.

All of these cuts have been made at a time when our caseloads for cash assistance, food stamps and other programs are increasing. More and more people need our help, but Ohio has reduced the funding for the programs that have proven to be successful in helping these families.

Our families also struggle with a lack of behavioral health services, especially for adults. Mental health and substance abuse issues are far too prevalent in our clients’ lives. We must commit ourselves to ensuring that the appropriate services are there when needed.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of my testimony.

Mar 13, 2009

Stories of a few of our clients

We want you to know more about the people we serve and the challenges they face every day. Many get by each month with very little income. Some are facing health problems, some are single parents trying to pay for all of their family expenses, some are grandparents struggling to raise their grandchildren on fixed incomes, some have lost their jobs due to layoffs and others are working several jobs and still can't make enough money to pay all of their expenses.
Over the next few months, we will be posting stories about our clients, and letting them explain the obstacles they are facing and overcoming in thier lives. To read more about our clients and how today's economic conditions are affecting them, click here.

Feb 2, 2009

State, federal governments do not provide enough assistance to cover basic needs

Many people believe that cash assistance, food programs and other forms of public assistance provide enough to allow people living in poverty to get by, but that is not the case.
Cash assistance, called Ohio Works First (OWF), is only provided to families with children. The monthly funding is less than one-third of the monthly federal poverty level. The majority of OWF recipients are grandparents raising their grandchildren, and the second highest group of recipients is single mothers. The recipients have to meet strict requirements, including work requirements, in order to be eligible for benefits.
In 2009, a family of two will receive up to $355 per month in OWF funding, while a family of three will receive up to $434 per month.
By comparison, the federal poverty level for a family of two is $1,215 per month. For a family of three, it is $1,526 per month. Some families may also receive money for food through the Food Assistance Program, but that program is designed to only provide about two weeks worth of food per month.
The monthly income for these families is much less than the federal poverty level, and they are forced to turn to food banks and other charitable programs for assistance.
Many people living in poverty in our community have had to leave their homes to move in with family or friends or stay at shelters. Too many children live in overcrowded and unsafe homes and go to bed hungry. Grandparents who are living on fixed incomes often can’t afford the medicine or the medical care they need because all of their money goes to food and living expenses for their families.
People are living in abject poverty all around us, and we cannot allow this to continue.
The human and social service agencies in several southeastern Ohio counties are calling on state and federal leaders to make important changes to help these families.
· Ohio Works First funding must be increased by $100 a month.
· Food Assistance funding must be increased so that it can provide enough food for a whole 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.

These changes will not get families out of poverty, but they will make a big difference in their lives.
Please call, write or e-mail these representatives asking them to make these changes.
· Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland – Governor’s Office, Riffe Center, 30th Floor, 77 S. High St., Columbus, Ohio 43215-6108. Phone (614) 466-3555. E-mail by logging onto and then clicking on the link that says Contact The Governor.
· State Representative Debbie Phillips - Phillips represents the 92nd Ohio House District. The 92nd District Office can be reached by mail at 77 S. High St., 11th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215-6111. Phone (614) 466-2158. The e-mail address is
· State Representative Dan Dodd – Dodd represents the 91sth District and has a mailing address at 77 S. High St., 10th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215-6111. Phone (614) 466-2500 or send an e-mail to
· State Representative Clyde Evans – Evans represents the 87th District and can be reached by mail at 77 S. High St., 13th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215-6111. Phone (614) 466-1366 or send an e-mail to
· State Representative T. Todd Book – Book represents the 89th District and can be reached by mail at 77 S. High St., 14th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215-6111. Phone (614) 466-2114 or send an e-mail to
· State Senator Jimmy Stewart – Stewart represents the 20th Senate District and can be reached by mail at Senate Building, Room #040, Ground Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215. His office phone number is (614) 466-8076 and his e-mail address is
· State Senator John Carey – Carey represents the 17th Senate District and can be reached by mail at Senate Building, Room 127, First Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215. Phone (614) 466-8156 or send an e-mail to
· U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, Sixth District – 226 Cannon HOB, Washington, D.C., 20515. Phone 1-888-706-1833. Wilson can be e-mailed through the link on his office Web site, which is located at
· U.S. Rep Zack Space, 18th District – 315 Cannon HOB, Washington, D.C., 20515. Phone (202) 225-6265. Space can be e-mailed through the link on his office Web site, which is located at
· U.S Sen. Sherrod Brown – 455 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510. Phone (202) 224-2315. Send e-mails from his office Web site,
· U.S Sen. George Voinovich – 524 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510. Phone (202) 224-3353. Send e-mails through his office Web site,
· The White House – 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20500. Phone (202) 456-1111. Send e-mails to

For more information contact Nick Claussen, community relations coordinator, Athens County Job and Family Services, at (740) 797-2523 or

Jan 21, 2009

The Athens County Fast and Free Tax Assistance Center is now open

If you’re filing a basic tax return this year, there is no need to pay anyone to help you prepare your return or to take out a refund anticipation loan.

The Athens County Fast and Free Tax Assistance Center is now open at the Work Station in The Plains. At the Center, area residents can file their basic tax returns for free, and they can receive direct deposits of their refunds in 7-10 days.

Unfortunately, there are professional tax preparation companies that take advantage of low-income citizens who don’t know about the free services available to all area residents. Many low-income taxpayers are so eager to get tax refunds that they turn to refund anticipation loans, pay stub prep, and 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 loans based on an individual’s tax return. Taxpayers receive their anticipated refund amount the same day that they file their returns when they use these types of loans. However, they are not only charged the cost of preparing the return, but are also charged with incredibly high interest rates, ranging from 40 to more than 100 percent

The 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.

The Athens County Fast and Free Tax Assistance Center is a free alternative to all of these high-cost, high risk approaches. At the 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 if 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.