Ohio’s welfare rolls continue to decline sharply, statistics from the state show.
Declining participation is part of the reason Ohio will likely avoid a federal penalty of $135 million, but critics charge the state’s most vulnerable children and adults are being denied needed assistance.
Statewide in July there were 151,495 adults and children who received assistance through the Ohio Works First Program, also known as TANF, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. That’s about 75,000 fewer people than the 226,778 who were recipients in January, 2011 — a decline of about one-third in less than two years. The number of people receiving the assistance has declined by thousands of people almost every month since the beginning of last year.
In Lucas County, the number of recipients has declined from 12,985 people in January of last year to 9,349 adults and children in August.
The state had been threatened with a potential federal fine because not enough welfare recipients had been participating in 30 hours of mandated weekly “work activities,” which are required because of the 1996 welfare reform law. Ohio had failed to meet this goal every year since 2007; fines have been levied annually since by the federal government but would have soon start coming due if the state is not in compliance by the end of the month.
As of July, the most recent data available, the state’s work participation rate was 50.3 percent, and state officials expect they will meet the goal of 50 percent work participation by Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, and avoid the fine, said Ben Johnson, a spokesman for the state Department of Job and Family Services.
“We feel good about where we are,” Mr. Johnson said.
Recent advertisements for Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney have accused the Obama administration of “gutting” welfare reform and the accompanying work requirement, but state officials say the work requirement isn’t going anywhere, at least in Ohio. Said Mr. Johnson, “We’re very committed to work participation and believe it is an important part of the program.” The requirement that 50 percent of the state’s caseload be participating in work activities will not change and what is considered work participation must remain meaningful, he said.
“I know there is a debate nationally about if [this] guts the work requirement, which some people say is the key part of welfare reform,” said Mr. Johnson. “We are not going to do anything in Ohio that guts the work requirement.”
Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association, added, the federal waiver being questioned by Mr. Romney’s campaign “does absolutely nothing to change Ohio’s situation.”
However, the fact that participation in the program continues to fall despite historic high poverty and unemployment rates in Ohio is alarming, said Eugene King, director of the Ohio Poverty Law Center in Columbus, a group that advocates for policies that aid low-income people. The vast majority of those receiving the assistance now — about 118,000 individuals — are children. About 33,000 are adults, according to state data.
Jack Frech, Job and Family Services Director in Athens County, Ohio, said he believes even though the state will avoid a federal penalty, it will still pay a price.
“The cost is that they’ve thrown [about] 75,000 people off assistance, including 40,000 kids,” he said. “That’s a huge crisis for those families.”
Mr. Frech also emphasizes the loss of welfare dollars is harmful to entire communities. In Lucas County, there are 1,459 fewer families receiving the assistance now than there were at the beginning of 2011. That's a loss of about $472,000 every month that would otherwise be going to families in Lucas County.
The Toledo area has the 8th highest metro poverty rate in the nation.
“Every time you throw an adult off, you throw at least one or two kids off with them,” Mr. Frech added. “So, that’s what it’s costing us.”
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