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Published: Tuesday, 12/17/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

Critics prod Kasich to waive work rule

134,000 Ohioans at risk of losing food-stamp aid

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Kasich Kasich
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich’s decision to reinstate work requirements as a condition for able-bodied adults to continue receiving food stamp assistance in most Ohio counties is inconsistent with his recent championing of health-care for the poor, critics argued on Tuesday.

Many of those critics stood with the Republican governor as he opposed members of his own party to expand Medicaid coverage to 275,000 additional Ohioans, but they now urge him to reverse his position on food stamps.

“I would submit to the governor to practice what he preaches,” said Matt Habash, president and chief executive officer of Mid-Ohio Foodbank, repeating Mr. Kasich’s own criticism during the Medicaid debate that lawmakers will not be judged when they reach the Pearly Gates on how much they’ve reduced the size of government.

An estimated 134,000 single adult Ohioans without dependent children in 72 counties, including those in every northwest Ohio county except Ottawa, are considered at risk of losing food stamp assistance as of Jan. 1. That’s when the first round of people will have exhausted a three-month grace period from the restored requirement that they work at least 20 hours a week, prove they’re in school, or participate in job training or other job-preparation programs.

All 88 counties had previously received federal waivers from the work requirement, but Mr. Kasich opted this year to request extensions only for the 16 counties with the highest, most stubborn unemployment numbers. Most of those counties are in southern Ohio.

Ottawa was the only northwest Ohio county where the average unemployment rate for two years has remained 20 percent above the national average. Ottawa’s average was 10.8 percent.

People between the ages of 18 and 50 in the rest of the state must meet the work mandate.

“There were states around the country that continued their statewide waivers and states that ended their waivers everywhere,” said Ben Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. “We wanted to be more strategic and continue the waiver in parts of the state struggling with high unemployment.”

This could come at roughly the same time as the expiration of unemployment benefits for an estimated 129,000 long-term unemployed Ohioans after Congress did not approve another extension.

“We applauded the governor when he had the courage to add 275,000 folks to Medicaid, but it is absurd to give people health care one month and turn around later and say, ‘Now you can’t eat’,” said the Rev. John Edgar, a United Methodist pastor.

Counties are assessing whether individuals should be exempted from the work requirement based on a list of factors, including whether they are pregnant, mentally or physically unfit to work, or have disability or elder care issues at home.

Adam Nutt, chief fiscal officer at Lucas County Job and Family Services, said about 16,000 county residents fall under the work mandate requirements, but about half have been determined to meet one of the exceptions.

“Unfortunately, we are going to see a lot of people who are not going to comply,” he said. “We will have to sanction them, suspend their benefits. Some are not showing up at all for assessment. We’ve contacted them and sent them a mailer. They’re not even showing up. We will give them a seven-day buffer to reschedule, but then we’ll have to sanction them.”

The work requirement was part of broader welfare reform begun in the 1990s, but the federal government began granting waivers during the most recent recession.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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