10 December 2014

Gene King, director, Ohio Poverty Law Center speaks at a press conference Tuesday at Trinity Episcopal Church on E. Broad St. King and others highlighted a recent Policy Matters report as advocates, religious leaders, private donors and community foundations called on Governor John Kasich to accept the federal waiver that extends to all of Ohio food aid for one year without the work requirements.

During this holiday season nearly 134,000 Ohioans face the prospect of ringing in the new year hungry. Governor John Kasich has decided, despite Ohio’s stagnant job growth and high unemployment, that work requirements will be mandated in 72 counties for childless adults aged 18-50 in order to qualify for food assistance.

Ohio is still down 221,000 jobs from where it was in November 2007. Where these 134,000 people will work is a puzzling proposition. What is known is that they will no longer qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – what used to be called food stamps.

Kasich could have accepted a federal waiver that would have extended the federal food aid for all the counties in Ohio for at least one year without the work requirements. Reverend John Edgar, who works for the United Methodist Community Development for All People project wonders why anyone would want to “punish these folks in this economy.”

“It’s a horrible decision,” Edgar laments.

The Franklin County Department of Jobs and Family Services (JFS) cannot possibly meet the need to supply employment for the 15,000 people who will have to work or be denied food starting January 1st. “My agency is a nonprofit that supplies these types of jobs. We’ve told the Jobs and Family Services people to double the amount of people they send here for work, but they tell us they can’t do it because they don’t have the personnel to supervise that many new workers,” Edgar explains. “It is fundamentally wrong and unfair to tell people to get a job that doesn’t exist, or can’t be done because there aren’t enough personnel there to meet the demand.”

Gene King, Director of the Ohio Poverty Law Center, agrees with Edgar that there are “so few work sites” and that there are not enough for placement.

In a report by Policy Matters Ohio, Franklin County JFS Director Anthony Trotman said, “The new work requirement in the SNAP program will be very difficult for us. In Franklin County, 15,000 adults will need to work for food stamps…This is a lot of people to serve in a complex program. We need to take advantage of the waiver for another year. Let the economy improve. Get ready to serve these people.”

Kasich’s decision not to accept the waiver for 72 of Ohio’s 88 counties appears to have caught many Ohio counties by surprise. Several of the people who will be denied food assistance could have gotten waivers from their county, but the personnel and resources are not available to work with so many people who will be required to work for food.

The SNAP program serves roughly 47 million Americans, nearly half of them children. By targeting the supposed “able-bodied” unemployed, the government is saving on average $140 per person per meal in assistance. Kasich’s decision will take at least $100 million out of the state’s economy.

The cuts will come at the time when the number of Ohioans living in poverty is estimated at 1.8 million. There was a 60 percent increase in poverty between 2000-2010 and King reflects that it is “ironic that people are enrolling in Medicaid for the first time ever because of a decision by Kasich, but are losing nutritional assistance that is a key to good health.” Also, as King points out, these federal dollars that Kasich is once again giving away as he did with the transportation dollars for trains, is spent locally and circulates to help sustain local economies, create jobs and generate taxes.

The Grocery Association estimates that for every $60,000 spent on food, you create a job. Imagine the consequences of removing a $100 million from some of the most desperate neighborhoods in the United States. Equally ironic is that this work requirement will lead to more job loss.

Director Jack Frech of the Athens County Jobs and Family Services noted that the people targeted on the SNAP program are already caught in a cycle of poverty: “When you set eligibility at 50 percent of poverty and benefit levels at 25 percent of what you need to get by – as we do in Ohio – clients are, in essence, ‘sanctioned’ simply by how low the aid is. Every day is a struggle for survival.”

These so-called able-bodied unemployed workers are plagued by their lack of education and job skills, not necessarily a lack of desire to work. Director Joseph Gauntner of the Cuyahoga County Jobs and Family Services said, “We find that 50 percent of entrants have a high school diploma or a GED at entry, but when you look at the entire Ohio Works First caseload at a given moment in time, you find that drops to 25 percent pretty quickly. People with a high school diploma or equivalent exit the program more quickly. The people left on have big barriers. Lack of education and skills are big ones.

Even if they could find a job, most lack transportation. Many also suffer significant mental health issues from living below the poverty level and some have low rates of literacy, being products of Ohio’s unconstitutional school system.

So as Columbus contemplates peace on earth and good will to all people, our Governor is not reflecting on the obvious barriers to employment for the 134,000 Ohioans currently living in poverty and preparing to go hungry at the beginning of the new year. Take the waiver, Governor Scrooge.

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