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Published: Tuesday, 8/17/2004

Lines form in the wee hours for school-supply vouchers

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fostoria resident Amanda James beams as she displays the $550 worth of vouchers that she received.
Fostoria resident Amanda James beams as she displays the $550 worth of vouchers that she received.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

BOWLING GREEN Eight months pregnant, Amanda James arrived at Wood County Job and Family Services at 2:45 a.m. yesterday hoping to secure school clothes and supply vouchers for her two children.

Even at that early hour, she was the 14th person in line. Because the agency sees only up to 18 clients a day for the first-time school voucher program, Wood County residents have been lining up hours before the office opens at 8 a.m.

Last Monday, I was here at 6:30 a.m., and I was number 21, Ms. James of Fostoria said. People said they were going to come back this week at 3 a.m., so I thought I d better come at 2:45 a.m.

Her persistence paid off. Nearly 12 hours later, she emerged from the agency all smiles, holding vouchers to buy her school-age child $50 worth of supplies from Staples and both of her children $500 worth of clothes from J.C. Penney.

Many low-income residents won t be so lucky.

Paulette Stephens, director of Job and Family Services, said yesterday the program would be suspended on Aug. 30 when she expects the $400,000 set aside for it to be depleted. I wish we could ve done more, Ms. Stephens said.

In the first two weeks, the agency issued $156,400 in clothing and supply vouchers for 286 children from 125 families. She expects about as many more to be served in the final two weeks.

And, though she initially projected as many as 6,000 children in Wood County might qualify for the vouchers, she did not anticipate so many parents lining up at the agency s doors. When the program was introduced in late July, Ms. Stephens said it would run until June 30 or until the funds ran out.

It has been a larger response than we anticipated, she said, adding, I understand the frustration of the clients that are standing there, but this is a first-come, first-served type of situation. We did say there would be bumps in the program, and this is one of them.

Beginning today, Ms. Stephens is asking that applicants refrain from arriving until 7 a.m. The first 18 clients will be seen that day, while the next 18 will be given appointments for the same day next week. Only those with return notices will be seen beginning Aug. 24.

It s a wonderful program $550 per child. That s a big, big help, said Victor Kismal, a single father of one teenager from Bowling Green. But to me, it s kind of humiliating. Here, you need school-clothes help, and you have to wait outside at 3 a.m. You have to get child care to wait outside the building in the dark.

Other parents echoed his sentiments. The agency initially said it would take applications from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and assigned residents by school district to come on a certain day of the week.

This is my third week here. I have not been here early enough, and I m about to give up, said Misty Shultz, a single mother of three from Fostoria. I got here at 5:15 a.m., and there were already 40 people in line.

She said she was excited when she first heard about the voucher program.

I thought, cool. My kids can have something decent for school this year, not just second-hand stuff, she said. It s a little frustrating.

Ms. Stephens said staff members are handling the voucher applications as they have time while continuing to perform their regular work.

We tried to craft the best program we could with the money and the time we had to work with, she said.

The program is being paid for with federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds and with incentive dollars Wood County received for its welfare reform efforts.

Wood County Commissioner Jim Carter, whose board approved using the money for the voucher program, said yesterday that he was unaware of the long lines, adding that he didn t know how the program could have been administered differently.

It s just sad to know there are so many children out there who don t have all they need for school, Mr. Carter said. It sounds like there are a lot of motivated [parents] out there. They want it for their children. They re not standing in line for themselves.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:jfeehan@theblade.comor 419-353-5972.



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