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Persistent poverty

Ohio’s governor and legislature must reverse policies that harm the poorest households

Ohio’‍s poorest residents continue to sink further into poverty, even as Gov. John Kasich lauds the state’s economic recovery. It is a disingenuous election-year ploy at a time when thousands of Ohioans struggle to afford such basic needs as food, shelter, clothing, and health care.

The Republican recovery tale says Ohio has bounced back from the Great Recession with plentiful jobs, balanced state budgets, and tax cuts for the deserving. Yet many of the state’s neediest people and families are still deprived of any real chance of escaping poverty.

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A new report by the progressive advocacy group Policy Matters Ohio concludes that more families are slipping into deep poverty, while state programs that are designed to support the neediest Ohioans have reduced their caseloads and narrowed eligibility. Deep poverty is defined as a family, or a single parent with two children, earning less than $10,000 a year.

The share of Ohioans in this category grew from 4.6 percent in 2000 to 7.6 percent in 2012, the report says. Worse, the share of Ohio’s children living in deep poverty rose from 9 percent in 2006 to 12 percent in 2012.

Governor Kasich made the courageous decision to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act, over the opposition of the Republican-controlled General Assembly. But otherwise, aid to the state’s poorest households — Ohio Works First cash assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps), and state-funded child care — has been cut. Cash aid has declined by 71.3 percent for adults, and by 40.2 percent for children, since the governor took office in January, 2011.

Such policies are having a devastating effect on the poorest Ohioans. Many of those who haven’t found work have been severed from a temporary lifeline, even though Ohio does not have enough jobs to employ everyone who wants to work.

The state’s jobless and poverty rates highlight other problems: the lack of effective job training, public transportation, child care, and other necessary work support. Many of the working poor still don’t earn enough to support themselves and their families.

According to Policy Matters, some of Ohio’s largest occupational categories — such as food preparation, janitorial work, and home health care — don’t pay enough for a single parent with two children to become self-sufficient.

In Lucas County, Policy Matters says, a three-person family must have annual earnings of $46,159 to be genuinely self-sufficient. Yet more than 5,600 people — including more than 3,000 children — have been removed from cash assistance in the past three years in Lucas County.

As this year’s election approaches, Governor Kasich and state lawmakers must explain to voters why they have reduced the number of Ohioans who receive public assistance, even as the need for such programs has continued to grow. They must then begin to reverse policies that punish the poor.

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