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GOV. John Kasich’s plan to impose new work requirements on some food stamp recipients in Ohio might sound reasonable. But it isn’t.
There are simply not enough jobs to accommodate the new rules, which will cost thousands of recipients their benefits — at a time when hunger remains a serious problem in the state.
The plan will affect 134,000 adults in all but 16 of Ohio’s 88 counties. To his credit, Governor Kasich has exempted counties with especially high unemployment, but the entire state could have qualified for a federal waiver of the work requirements. The requirements will take effect next month, although no one will lose benefits because of them until January.
In most counties, including Lucas County, able-bodied adults without children will have to spend 20 or more hours a week working, training for a job, or performing a similar activity. The Kasich administration characterizes the work requirements as benefits to help poor people launch a career or escape poverty.
But opportunities for meaningful job training and work experience remain minimal. Some able-bodied food stamp recipients with mental disorders are applying for Social Security disability benefits — a process that can take years.
The requirements also seem to ignore the realities that some recipients have no transportation and little or no other income. At least 15 percent of recipients — an estimated 260,000 people in Ohio — lack cash income.
Federal work participation requirements have thrown tens of thousands of Ohio families off the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Work requirements were central to the 1996 federal welfare reform law, championed by then-President Bill Clinton and governors of both parties. Mr. Kasich advocated work requirements as a U.S. House Budget Committee chairman in the mid-1990s.
Making work central to welfare reform appears reasonable — if state and federal governments invest sufficient resources in making sure that recipients have the training, transportation, child care, and other support they need to move into the economic mainstream.
Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, acknowledged that no additional resources or money would accompany the work requirement. He said counties will continue to have federal and state money available to help with jobs and training programs — money that counties have not fully used in the past.
“Reducing the caseload is not our goal,” he told The Blade’s editorial page.
But county officials who run local public assistance programs — the people in a position to know — assert that insufficient job sites can’t accommodate the change. They predict that thousands of people will lose their food stamp benefits, the front line against hunger.
The new policy appears shortsighted, unreasonable, and even cruel while unemployment remains historically high (7.2 percent in Ohio). Congress is poised to cut the food-stamp program — officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — by $4 billion to $40 billion a year.
A new federal report shows that one in six Ohio families faced hunger last year. More than 1.8 million Ohioans rely on food stamps to get enough to eat. Current benefit levels — in Ohio, $132 per person per month — are already inadequate, especially when many recipients don’t have access to supermarkets, or to healthy, unprocessed food at reasonable costs.
In the vast majority of cases, people are not abusing the program. In fact, it’s just the opposite: Many of those who are eligible for food stamps don’t apply.
Governor Kasich’s new work requirements for food-stamp recipients will not help move people into the economic mainstream. If anything, the rules will drive them even deeper into poverty.