TERESA HARRIS Enlarge
Gov. John Kasich has repeatedly expressed his concern for the plight of poor Ohioans. He proposes a new Office of Human Services Innovation within the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which would develop a plan to address the challenges of poverty in our state.
Unfortunately, this lofty plan bears little resemblance to the policies that Governor Kasich has carried out during his term. These policies have devastated the lives of the poorest families in Ohio. The governor, his administration, and the General Assembly share the blame for this travesty with President Obama, Congress, and the federal government.
Cuts to our state’s most prominent anti-poverty programs — Ohio Works First cash assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps — will exceed $570 million this year. These dollars are coming out of the pockets of the poorest families in the poorest communities in Ohio.
The safety net is gone. The premise that every Ohioan will at least have his or her basic human needs met for food and shelter no longer applies. Dramatic reductions in Ohio Works First have cut off more than 100,000 recipients in the past three years.
That’s a loss of more than $166 million a year in benefits for poor families. The cuts are the result of the Kasich administration’s unnecessarily strict and repressive enforcement of time limits and work policies tied to eligibility.
Federal-level cuts in SNAP have reduced the average monthly benefit from $138 to $121 per person. The reductions over the past three years have cost poor Ohio families more than $400 million a year.
In Lucas County, more than 5,600 people — including more than 3,000 children — have been removed from cash assistance in the past three years. Combined with the SNAP cuts, the loss to the county is more than $32 million a year.
When dollars are denied the poorest families, that directly affects the economy of the local community. That money no longer gets spent on housing or groceries, or at the corner drugstore.
Taking that much money out of the economy will cost other people their jobs, hurting their families and children. How can this be good public policy?
Across Ohio, poor families are homeless or living two or three households to a dwelling. Food pantries and soup kitchens are overwhelmed by demand. Families are under constant stress just trying to survive.
One out of five families that collect SNAP benefits has no cash income. These families have no ability to pay rent, buy personal hygiene products and clothing, or pay for transportation or anything else — including the 25 percent of their food needs not covered by SNAP. They live desperate lives.
Columbus and Washington need to get realistic: The private-sector economy does not provide a living-wage job for everyone. Not everyone can work all the time.
Ohioans cannot continue to allow our fellow citizens, and their children, to struggle to meet basic human needs. We must commit ourselves to rebuilding an effective social safety net.
Jack Frech is director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services.