Aug 3, 2012

No child should go hungry or be homeless

Currently in Ohio, tens of thousands of children are being raised in families that have no cash income. They struggle to survive on a small allotment of food stamps, which can only be spent on food. They have no cash for rent, utilities, clothing, transportation, or personal care products.

And while the situation is tragic, the state of Ohio is making it worse every month through policies designed to take assistance away from families in need.

Since January of 2011, the number of people receiving cash assistance welfare in Ohio has been reduced by more than 75,000. Of the people who no longer receive benefits, nearly 44,000 are children. This is a reduction of nearly one-third of the state’s welfare caseload, and it is happening at a time when the number of people living in poverty is still growing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that at least 18 percent of all food stamps recipients in Ohio have no cash income. That is equal to more than 320,000 people.

Most families are not leaving the cash assistance program because they are doing better financially. Caseloads are decreasing because families are being removed or diverted from the program contrary to the program’s goals. Ohio has been threatened with $130 million in sanctions by the Obama administration for failing to meet work participation rate targets. Ohio’s response has been to reduce the rolls of cash assistance recipients by any means possible.

The majority of families being pushed off of assistance in Ohio are facing health problems, a lack of transportation, and other significant challenges. In fact, 78% of the adults who receive cash assistance do not own a vehicle. And thanks to large cuts in funding, most counties do not provide the financial assistance needed by recipients to get to their work assignments. As a result, it becomes impossible for these poor families to meet all of their work requirements, and yet counties are encouraged to throw them off of the program as quickly as possible.

The Personal Responsibility Act of 1996 did away with the former entitlement system for welfare in America and created the fixed allocation block grant program known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. As part of the reform, states were given more control over public assistance policy. Ohio adopted the Ohio Works First (OWF) program, which includes stringent conditions such as low benefits, short time limits, work requirements, and tough sanction policies. A typical family receiving OWF assistance receives only about $450 a month in cash and $500 in food stamps.

The goals of the TANF program, as stated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are:

1. Assisting needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes.
2. Reducing the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage.

3. Preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

4. Encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

Since 1996, none of these goals have been met. Instead, the trends that welfare reform was supposed to reverse have instead only continued to grow. More children are homeless or are being cared for by grandparents, the dependency rate for needy parents has grown, the number of out-of-wedlock pregnancies has increased and the number of two-parent families continues to decline.

The most obvious failure of welfare reform in Ohio is the fact that tens of thousands of people are being thrown off of assistance, even while the country is in a recession.

How can we claim to care about families with children when we cut tens of thousands of them off all cash assistance knowing that they have no other options? By cutting these families off of assistance, Ohio is taking away more than $120 million that used to go directly to helping poor families pay for food and shelter.

Some supporters of this plan even make the absurd claim that we are doing it in order to help these families. What Ohio is really doing is taking the potential federal sanction and turning it into a very real $120 million state sanction against the poorest kids in the state. Whom do you report child neglect to when the greatest perpetrator is the state?

If you believe that no child in Ohio should go hungry or homeless, please contact the Governor and our State and Federal Representatives. Thank you.

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