Ohio’s Senate Bill 382, introduced by Shannon Jones (R-Springboro) and Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland), would make positive changes for Ohioans living near the poverty level. It would, for the first time, guarantee a standard of living of at least the poverty level for non-custodial parents.
Jack Frech, Director of Athens County Job and Family Services, voiced his support for this Senate Bill in a letter sent to every Ohio senator last week, with the request that the same provision be extended to the children and their caretakers.
“We support this bill, because we feel strongly that no one should be forced to have an income that will not meet their basic human needs,” Frech said. “It is encouraging that with bi-partisan support this bill will help establish this precedent. Now, we need to immediately offer that same guarantee to the children and caretakers of these obligors.”
The bill would create a “self-support reserve” ensuring obligors, those who owe child support, would not have payments set so high that they would be unable to meet their own basic needs. The minimum reserve amount they would retain would be no less than the Federal Poverty Level.
Meanwhile, children and caretakers must live at 50 percent of the federal poverty level before they qualify for Ohio’s cash assistance program, formally known as Ohio Works First (OWF). Starting next year, the program will provide at most $282 per month for an individual or $473 for a family of three, a slight increase of less than 2 percent from this year.
Ohio’s benefit levels are just under half of the poverty level, even when combined with food stamps. Food stamps would provide at most $194 for an individual or $511 for a family of three.
As they stand now, benefit levels leave a family of three with zero income living on less than $9,895. This is the harsh reality for many families, as 20 percent of Ohio’s food stamp households have no other income.
It’s important to note that 72 percent of all OWF cases are “child only,” meaning that the children are not living with either biological parent. Also, 300,000 children statewide live in households with an income below 50 percent of poverty.
In short, the effect of S.B. 382 is that non-custodial parents who owe child support will be guaranteed an income much higher than their children unless a self-sufficiency guarantee is extended to their children and caretakers. This comes at a time when over 60,000 children have been cut off OWF in the last three years.
The issue is not that we should deprive any parent of sufficient resources to meet their basic needs, but that we should also not allow children to continue to struggle for survival without such a guarantee.
Frech’s letter to Ohio’s senators made the following suggestions:
- Increase OWF benefits so the combination of cash and SNAP benefits reach the poverty level.
- Raise the maximum income eligibility for OWF to the federal level of 100%, rather than 50% of the poverty level.
- Disregard all outside income until the income level for the OWF recipient reaches 100% of the poverty level.
- Raise the time limit on OWF to the maximum five-year federal limit, rather than three years. There is no time limit on the self-sufficiency reserve amount for the non-custodial parent.
S.B. 382 is a step in the right direction. We hope our senators recognize it is only fair to the children and their caretakers to offer them the same protection.
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