Mar 13, 2013

State budget testimony discusses ways to improve Ohio's public assistance programs

On Tuesday, March 12, Athens County Job and Family Services Director Jack Frech testified about the state budget proposal before the Health and Human Service Sub-Committee of the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee. Here is a copy of his testimony.
Ohio Governor John Kasich has expressed his concern for the poor, elderly and disabled.  He has supported services to keep the elderly and disabled in their own homes and has expressed concern for homeless people living under bridges.  While his support of Medicaid expansion is a critical step in protecting our most vulnerable citizens, it belies the hardships that his current policies and proposed budget pose for the poorest families with children.

Welfare reform has been a terrible failure in Ohio.  It has forced families to fall apart and children to suffer.  In the past two years, 90,000 people, including more than 50,000 children, have been cut off of the Ohio Works First (OWF) cash assistance program.  Now, the Governor’s budget proposal calls for further cuts.  The cash assistance line item in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant cuts $191 million dollars from the poorest families in the state.

  • Of the more than 640,000 Ohio children living in poverty in Ohio, nearly 300,000 live in extreme poverty, which is below 50 percent of the federal poverty level.  Of those, 115,000 are children living in families receiving OWF cash assistance.  An additional 100,000 live with families receiving only food stamps and have no cash income.
  • A typical Ohio family of two receives only $374 per month in OWF cash assistance and about $370 in Food Assistance benefits.  Director Colbert testified that there are more than 100,000 adults working full time who still do not make enough money to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter for their families.  Yet, he ignored the question of how the folks who receive OWF and who meet all of the work requirements are expected to provide for their families on the inadequate benefit that they receive.  It is time to increase OWF grants by $100 per month.
  • Even though the first goal of the TANF program is to keep children in their own homes, 62% of children receiving OWF benefits do not live with their parents, usually staying with grandparents or other relatives.
  • Another federal TANF goal is to encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent households.  Out of the 70,000 OWF cash assistance households, only about 3,500 or 5% are two-parent households.  In January there were eight counties that had no two-parent households at all receiving assistance.
  • 20% of all households that receive food stamps have no cash income.  Food stamps are designed to only meet 75% of a family’s food needs.
  • Transportation is a huge barrier to the work program participation. 80% of OWF households do not own a vehicle.  The typical work allowance paid by counties is $25.00 to $50.00 a month for a 30 hour a week work requirement.  County funding for PRC was cut by over $100,000,000 since 2009 resulting in many counties drastically reducing or eliminating funding for car repairs and transportation.  The new $42,000,000 dollars ODJFS has allocated to counties will not replace the loss of benefits for the families already cut off for lack of transportation.  We must restore county PRC funding to the 2009 levels.
Families are doubled and tripled up in housing. They are hungry and desperate. The Governor’s policies will continue to cut more families from assistance.  His budget projects a continued decline in the size of the case load, and will result in more children moving in with elderly and disabled relatives. And it will get more crowded under the bridge.

  • We need to increase Ohio Works First funding by $100 per family.
  • Instead of kicking families off of OWF assistance, we need to provide more funding for transportation and other services to help families on assistance get to their work programs and other appointments.
  • We need to provide more funding for job training and educational programs to help low-income families.
  • We need to stop ignoring these families and pretending that they do not exist. They do exist and they face a wide range of challenges just trying to survive each day. We need to help them.
Comments From A Few Of Our Clients
·         “I get enough money from OWF (Ohio Works First cash assistance) to pay my rent, which leaves all my other important bills out, or I have to choose what to pay to keep from being evicted or disconnected. My car insurance got cancelled and my license got pulled because of getting pulled over on my way to work off my hours for OWF. Being a single mom of a one-year-old and an eight-year-old, losing my job has been the biggest nightmare of my life. Not being able to get a job is the other, and trying to find a way to keep my bills paid and food on the table for my kids is the most important thing to me. I go hungry at times so they don’t have to.”
·         “I am a single mother with bipolar disorder caring for a two-year-old son on an income of $355 from OWF and $304 in food assistance. I struggle day by day to keep up with doctor’s appointments and to provide my son and me with food. Raising my benefits would greatly benefit our well-being at this time.”
·         “We have trouble with gas, food, utilities and household items. Our vehicle needs front end work done. I support seven people on $8 an hour. I only get 15 to 36 hours a week. My kids deserve to have stuff, but I can’t provide them with it because money is so tight. We are thankful for what help we do get, it’s just never enough. It’s especially tough at the end of the month when you are out of milk or cereal or bread and have no money to buy any.”
·         “My biggest problem is transportation, gas for transportation to and from doctor’s appointments. For the past 4 to 5 months, I ran out of food. I have four kids in the household for the first time in my life.  I’m 38-years-old and my kids were hungry. No way to get help transportation-wise, and twice there were no food boxes left to get. The food just isn’t lasting as long as it was before. And I’ve talked with the other people. It’s not just me. They are experiencing similar problems. This also makes it hard to pay other bills like electric, etc., because I’m spending more money on food.”
·         “Right now, our family is given $563 for cash assistance. There are two adults and four children in our home. Our rent alone is $500 a month and we are responsible for gas and electric as well. Because we do not even receive enough in cash right now to pay our current rent and utilities, we are unable to get a bigger home, either. We right now live in a two bedroom apartment.”

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