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Published: Monday, 7/16/2012

Aid awards based on faulty data

Study finds problems after wind-caused southern Ohio outages

BY ANDREW J. TOBIAS
DAYTON DAILY NEWS

DAYTON -- In what state officials said was an unprecedented move to help those in need after recent power outages, more than 280,000 families in 34 Ohio counties received $10 million worth of extra food stamps from the federal government.

The state said it identified the 34 counties "hardest hit" by high winds that pounded the area June 29. But a Springfield News-Sun investigation shows that in the rush to provide timely aid, officials used inaccurate power-outage data to award extra benefits.

If Ohio had the correct data, Montgomery County -- where 50,100 families received $1.7 million worth of extra food stamps -- would not have been eligible.

The federal government has stricter criteria for extra aid.

Food-stamp recipients in the counties that received extra aid still could apply for more assistance if they needed it.

A map included in the state's application for federal aid showed six counties in southwest Ohio with power outages of 50 percent of all residents or greater as of 12:30 p.m. July 1 -- the date used when considering eligibility for the supplemental aid.

Clark County Director Bob Suver of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and others viewed those numbers skeptically. Clark County, which gets the majority of its power from Ohio Edison, was not among the eligible counties in what appears to be an accurate calculation.

Even though it hasn't received federal aid, Clark County has awarded assistance to people case by case, which as of the middle of last week amounted to $247,870 to 1,283 families.

At least two counties, Butler and Hamilton, turned down the money partly over concerns about the state data's accuracy.

Using Ohio's map, federal officials approved the extra benefits, roughly $34 per family, for all food-stamp recipients in counties with outages of 30 percent or more.

However, information obtained by the News-Sun shows many counties likely were actually closer to 10 percent, and almost certainly less than 30 percent.

The state first sought assistance for citizens in counties in which 20 percent of customers were without power on July 1. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which released the funds, bumped the benchmark to 30 percent.

Joel Potts, executive director of the statewide association for county JFS directors, said it's important for the government to have accurate data when making quick decisions. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services decided to issue the mass food-stamp increase, as opposed to giving extra benefits only to those who lost power, so agencies could quickly get the benefits, spokesman Ben Johnson said. The state also wanted to avoid the long lines that formed at JFS agencies after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Shown the inaccurate data, Mr. Johnson said officials used "the best information available" to decide which counties needed the aid. He defended his agency's decisions.



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