Monday, December 29, 2008
Inside the building, the Friends and Neighbors Community Food Pantry was holding its annual Christmas toy giveaway program. The program is designed to provide enough toys for 100 families, but Director Lisa Roberts said that this year additional families called and asked about toys after the registration deadline, so she hoped to be able to provide for 115 families.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” said one Meigs County resident while picking out presents for her children. “If it wasn’t for this, my kids wouldn’t have any Christmas presents this year.”
The woman is unable to work because of her disability, so she tries to survive on her disability income. She does not have enough money each month to pay most of her bills, and this year she knew that for the first time she would not be able to afford to buy Christmas gifts for her children.
“I’m not allowed to buy my own home,” she added. She can barely pay the rent as it is, and said it has been getting harder every day to get by. This year has been the worst, which is why she had to visit the Christmas present giveaway program. Her children have been adjusting well to the tough economic situation at home, but the woman was very happy to have the presents to give them.
Roberts said every year she hears stories similar to this woman’s, stories of people who are just struggling to get by.
“It’s worse this year,” Roberts said. The high gas prices hurt people earlier in the year, the rising prices for groceries and other items have had an impact, and the national economic problems have just made things tougher for many people.
“As winter comes on, it presents another challenge,” Roberts added. Many people have to pay high utility bills during the winter months. Even if they receive funding from home heating assistance programs, that funding often does not get them through the whole winter.
Flu season is also tough on many families living in poverty, Roberts added. Over-the-counter medications can be expensive, but people often need the medicine for themselves or their children. When you add in trying to buy Christmas presents and serving a special Christmas meal at home, it can all cost too much for many families, Roberts said.
The Friends and Neighbors Community Food Pantry toy giveaway program was held over three days, Dec. 18,19 and 20, and provided a lot of toys for families in need. Each family could pick up stuffed animals, large toys, small toys, electronic toys, dolls, coloring books, socks, underwear, sweaters, coats, hats, gloves and other types of items.
“We started working on this in January,” Roberts explained. The food pantry takes donations and saves up items throughout the year, and also buys many of the presents at summer yard sales. Area residents also donate money to the center for the program, and that allows the volunteers to buy toys from local stores. This year, the center also held a Chinese auction where they raffled off Christmas decorations and raised more than $300 for the Christmas present program.
The pantry also held extra food giveaway programs, where local families could pick up items especially for a Christmas meal.
Like many food pantries, Friends and Neighbors operates out of small buildings and humble surroundings. Volunteers run the operation, and many of them have received food and other items from the pantry previously.
But while the Friends and Neighbors program may look small and simple, it is providing a huge service to people in need, and it made Christmas much warmer and memorable to more than 100 families this year. For more information on the Friends and Neighbors programs, call Roberts at (740) 667-0684.
Monday, December 15, 2008
The city of Athens has the highest poverty rate in the country for any city its size or larger. Athens County has the highest poverty rate in the state.
Those two statements should alarm and outrage the people of Athens County.
New U.S. Census figures for 2005-2007 show that 52.3 percent of the people in the city of Athens are living in poverty. The figures also show that 31.6 percent of the people of Athens County are living in poverty.
While Ohio University students have an impact on the survey, the Census figures show that the poverty rate in the city is very high even if the students are not counted.
· 50.4 percent, of the children under the age of five in Athens live in poverty.
· 34.6 percent of the city residents who are 18 years old or younger live in poverty.
· 30.5 percent of the married couples with children under the age of five live in poverty.
· 48.8 percent of the families with a female head of household live in poverty.
· 100 percent of the families with a female head of household that have children under the age of five live in poverty.
The Census figures also show the poverty problem for all of Athens County.
· Athens County has the fourth-highest rate in the state of children under the age of 18 living in poverty at 32.4 percent. The state average is 18.5 percent.
· Athens County has the eighth-highest rate in the state for people over the age of 65 living below the poverty level at 13.3 percent. The state average is 8.4 percent.
· Athens County has by far the lowest percent of employed civilians over the age of 16 working in manufacturing. Just 5.6 percent of employed civilians work in manufacturing. The state average is 17 percent, and the highest average is 38.5 percent in Shelby County.
· Athens County also has the highest percentage, again by a wide margin, of employed civilians over the age of 16 who work in service occupations. In the county, 25.1 percent of employed people work in the service industry. The state average is 16.5 percent, and the lowest percent is in 11.9 percent in Delaware County.
The Census numbers show that the students are not the main reason the city’s poverty rate is so high. Athens has a higher poverty rate than other college towns in Ohio such as Bowling Green, Kent and Oxford. The figures show that a very high number of non-students in the city live in poverty.
For the county, the figures clearly show how children, senior citizens and residents of all ages are living in poverty. The county has very few manufacturing jobs where people can make high-paying wages, but has a large number of low-paying, service industry jobs.
The county also has a high number of professional jobs through Ohio University, Hocking College and other institutions, but these jobs are not as accessible as manufacturing positions. Often, the professional jobs are filled by people who move into the area.
Also, there is no reason why the students should not count in the Census figures or why their presence here should allow anyone to downplay the poverty problem.
The students all live in Athens and use city and county services. While they contribute to the university, which creates job and benefits the community, for the most part they do not pay local property taxes or income taxes that help pay for government services. They also do not spend much money at businesses outside of the area near campus.
· The city of Athens has the lowest percentage in the state of married couple households, according to the Census figures. The rate in the city is 24.9 percent while the state average is 49.2 percent.
· The city has the lowest percentage in the state for owner-occupied homes. The rate in the city is 32.1 percent, while the state average is 70 percent.
· The cities that have the highest percentages of married couple households and the highest percentage of owner occupied homes are among the cities that have the lowest poverty levels in the state.
· The city has the second highest rate in the state for people who lived in different homes one year ago. The rate in Athens is 62.1 percent, while Oxford has the highest rate at 63.3 percent. The state average is 15.5 percent.
· The city also has the lowest rate of people who drive to work (or school). In Athens, the rate is 41.2 percent, while statewide the percent is 83.1 percent.
The figures show the city is filled with students who are here for a short time, do not have large incomes and do not impact the community in the way that stable families who own their own homes and have large incomes would.
The state and federal governments need to do more to help the people in need. Cash assistance, which only gets an eligible family up to nearly one-third of the federal poverty level, needs to be increased by $100 per month.
In addition, monthly food stamps funding, which only provides for enough food for two weeks, needs to provide enough food for an entire month. Health care services must be available to all adults who live below the federal poverty level. Disability income must be increased. Funding for mental health and substance abuse counseling for families living below the poverty level must be increased.
All of these programs help those in need, and they help the community as a whole. Studies show that public assistance programs stimulate the economy, because the people who receive the funding spend it at local businesses. For every $1 spent in food stamps, for example, $1.73 goes into the local economy.
We can’t just ignore or downplay these poverty figures, or ignore or downplay these people living in need. It’s time to take action to help.
For more information, contact Nick Claussen, community relations coordinator for Athens County Job and Family Services, at (740) 797-2523 or email@example.com.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Cars began arriving at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday night, and by 5 a.m. there were already 106 cars filled with people waiting in the dark, cold night for food.
The pantry hands out food items on the fourth Monday of every month to families that register with the facility. More than 80 volunteers were on hand on Nov. 24, working out in the rain to get food to the families who might otherwise go without.
“Have a smile on your face today and give everyone a kind word. This may be the only kind word they get all week,” said Dannie Devol to the volunteers just before the pantry opened for the day. Devol and his wife, Jane, run the facility, which also has a thrift shop that is open on Wednesdays and Fridays. The thrift shop helps to support the pantry, and also allows area residents to buy clothing items for $.50, coats for $1 and other items for very low prices.
In October, the pantry served food items to 759 families, which represented more than 2,000 people in need. The number of people helped on Monday was expected to be even higher.
Devol starts each day at the pantry leading the volunteers in a prayer and short pep talk. Then, the volunteers get to their stations and two lines of cars begin slowing making their way through the parking lot, getting food items placed in their vehicles at each station.
James Thompson got in line at 12:30 a.m. on Monday so that he could get through the line quickly after it opened.
“I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t get here then,” he said. He also receives food stamps, but that program only provides for enough food for his family for about two weeks. The food pantry items help his family get through the month, he said.
One woman, who only wanted to give her first name, Cindy, explained that she got in line at 4 a.m. “I wouldn’t be able to make it without this,” she said. Cindy works part-time, but the job does not pay enough to cover all of her bills or provide for her and her daughter.
One man, who also did not want to give his name, explained that he is disabled and unable to work. He got in line at 4:20 a.m. in order to get food. While he is very thankful for the assistance, he wishes that he could be one of the people giving out the food instead of being one of the people receiving it.
Tammy Tippie got into the line at 4:30 a.m. She explained that the food items the pantry hands out make it worthwhile to spend much of the night sleeping in her car out in the cold.
“I’ve got my blanket,” she said. Tippie moved to Logan a few months ago and was able to find a job, but it does not pay enough to cover all of her expenses. She did not know how she would have made it through Thanksgiving without the help from the pantry, and said it means a lot to her and her family.
The food pantry hands out items such as cereal, tomato paste, vegetable soup, tomato juice, green beans, corn, peas, rice, dried cherries, applesauce, beef stew, ham, onions, noodles, potatoes, apples and bread. On Monday, it also provided turkeys and turkey breasts for Thanksgiving.
Volunteer Susan Aldridge helped to coordinate the turkey hand-outs on Monday. Aldridge is the store manager for the Logan Wal-Mart, and explained that the store had 31 employees volunteering at the pantry. The store previously has had as many as 68 volunteers at the pantry, and Aldridge explained that Wal-Mart donates $5,000 to the pantry every time a certain number of volunteer hours are worked there by the store employees.
“It humbles you,” Aldridge said about working at the pantry. “You look at all the people in line and you’ve got to be thankful for what you have, and you want to give something back.” The people going through the line are also very thankful, and Aldridge said she enjoys talking to them.
One woman told Aldridge that her grandchildren were coming to her home for Thanksgiving, and she was worried she wouldn’t have anything to feed them. The food bank was a big help for her, she said.
One store employee worked until 11 p.m. on Sunday, and then got in line at 1 a.m. so she could pick up food for two elderly shut-ins that she knows, Aldridge said. Many people, like that employee, go through the line picking up items for other people even if they are not receiving any food themselves.
George Ralph spent his day giving the people in line fliers about the free medical clinics held at local churches for the uninsured and underinsured. Ralph said that it is striking to see how long the line is for people waiting for food, and said it shows how deep the poverty problem is in the region.
“It gets a hold of you,” Ralph said.
The poverty problem is growing in southeast Ohio and the holidays can often add to the burden faced by local families. The fact that Thanksgiving and Christmas both come at the end of the month, while the government benefits many people receive don’t provide for enough food or funding to make it through a whole month, also makes it difficult for many families.
For more information on the Smith Chapel Food Pantry, call Devol at (740) 974-1356 or log onto smithchapelfoodpantry.com
By Nick Claussen
Community Relations Coordinator, Athens County Job and Family Services
All of the local food pantries are seeing an increase in demand, but the huge need is especially shocking to see at the Smith Chapel Food Pantry in Logan.
Dannie Devol, coordinator for the food pantry, explained that people will often begin arriving the night before the once-a-month giveaway, waiting in their cars until the pantry opens at 8 a.m. When the pantry opens, the line of cars can stretch for 1 ½ miles.
Many of the people wait in their cars all night so that they can get to work on time in the morning after picking up their food, Devol said. Many also just want to make sure they can get food items they need for their family members.
“About a year and a half ago, we had about 400, 450 (families receiving food boxes). It’s up to 750 now,” Devol said.
Marilyn Sloan, food bank manager for the Second Harvest Food Bank in Logan, explained that the Smith Chapel Food Pantry has items such as apples, bread, cereals, tomato paste, vegetable soup, tomato juice, green beans, corn, peas, rice, dried cherries, applesauce, beef stew, ham and wide noodles to give to area residents.
The Second Harvest Food Bank is a regional food center that distributes supplies to food pantries in 10 southern Ohio counties.
Hocking County currently has 10 active food pantries. Ten years ago, the demand was much smaller and the county only had four active food pantries, Sloan said.
“We had so much food back then, and now that things are really hard, the demand is up and the donations of food are down,” Sloan said.
The country’s economic recession has hurt manufacturers that used to donate to the food pantries, and it has also hurt numerous public and private donors who used to contribute, she said.
“They have scaled back,” Sloan said.
Some people who used to drive others to the food banks are now in the position where they need to receive food boxes in order to make it through the month, Sloan explained.
“What we are seeing more and more of is elderly and people who are on disability who are just not making enough money to keep up with the demands,” Sloan said. “It’s just a very difficult time for our families.”
The 750 families served by the Smith Chapel Pantry in October represented more than 2,000 people who received food, Devol explained. He talks often with senior citizens, veterans, individuals who are disabled and people who have lost their jobs about the problems they are having making ends meet every month. Many people are also working in the community and simply can’t make enough money at their jobs to pay all of their bills, he added.
“The economy, it’s just thrown everything into a real tough situation for us,” Devol said.
The food pantry also runs a thrift store that is open on Wednesdays and Fridays. Many people in the community donate clothing and other items to the thrift store, which sells the clothing items for $0.50 each. Winter coats cost $1 a piece.
By charging a small amount per item, it helps raise money for the pantry and it also brings in customers who would not come in for hand-outs, Devol said.
“Last year, this little shop took in $39,000,” Devol said. All of the money from the thrift store goes to the food pantry, and it makes up about 50 percent of the food pantry’s budget, he said.
The food pantry also receives donations from organizations such the United Way and Wal-Mart, as well as receiving a small amount of government funding and a large number of private donations from the community.
“Wal-Mart has been very supportive,” he said, adding that the food pantry also receives between 20 and 30 volunteers from Wal-Mart every month.
Because the Second Harvest Food Bank cannot get many canned good items to the local food pantries anymore, Devol often buys items from Wal-Mart to hand out. Recently, for example, he had to order 8,000 cans of corn and beans, well as items such as ramen noodles and peanut butter.
“All of that came from Wal-Mart, and they gave me a very good price on it,” he said.
The pantry also receives excellent support from community members who volunteer every month.
“I never make a phone call. (The volunteers) know when it is and they’re here,” he said. People need to fill out applications in order to receive food at the pantry, and Devol said the volunteers help with this, too.
At age 83, he enjoys working at the food pantry and thrift store every day, and said that he and his wife, Jane, know that their work is needed.
“We feel that it’s a need in our community,” Devol said. “We have been blessed to a certain degree. We sort of feel like it’s a way to pay something back.”
He sees nearly every day how the food pantry helps people in need, and said that it is also good for him to be working at the facility.
“We don’t want to sit in a rocking chair and deteriorate. If you use your mind and your body like the Bible says, you’ll live longer,” Devol said.
For more information on the food pantry, call Dannie Devol at (740) 974-1356.
For more information on the Second Harvest Food Bank, call Marilyn Sloan at (740) 385-6813.
By Nick Claussen, community relations coordinator
Athens County Job and Family Services
Friday, November 14, 2008
Unfortunately, in a sample letter to the editor (see below) issued by the supporters of this plan, there seems to be very inappropriate comments about “welfare” and those receiving cash assistance as being “slackers.” Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines a “slacker” as “a person who shirks work or obligation.” The writer seems to be making the point that somehow the assistance we give to working families is not welfare and in the process chooses to malign those families who currently must rely on cash assistance.
The term “slacker” cannot be applied to folks receiving assistance under the “reformed” welfare system adopted in this country ten years ago. Welfare reform added time limits, work requirements, reporting requirements, and sophisticated computer monitoring systems to resolve the issues of who “deserved” public assistance raised by all the old myths about welfare. Folks receiving public assistance benefits cannot and do not shirk work or their many other obligations. However, apparently some of the advocates for the poor have adopted the currently fashionable political posturing of some that public assistance given to folks who are more like “us” is not welfare and, therefore, is acceptable. Folks who are more like “us” are more “deserving” of our help.
Instead of trashing the poorest people, those on cash assistance, we need to build stronger coalitions among all low-income families and individuals. The truth is that all means-tested financial assistance programs are welfare. That includes Medicaid, child care subsidies, housing assistance, earned income tax credits and HEAP. It baffles me as to why some programs are seen in such a positive light and others denigrated. Someone receiving financial assistance due to limited income is in the same boat as millions of other people who are sick, disabled, unemployed, divorced, elderly or just working at a low wage job. We should all be proud that we live in a country that feels a responsibility to help its less fortunate citizens. Pitting the poor against each other does not advance our efforts to create a just and fair society.
Jack Frech 11/10/08
Director, Athens County Department of Job and Family Services
DRAFT Op-ED for Submission to Daily Newspaper Editorial Editor by Low Income Advocate
Please review carefully and personalize with individual country information
What’s the REAL Bottom Line of How Much Money it Takes to Survive Here in XXXXX County and Why It Matters
As ______[job title and organization]_____________________________, I’ve learned that how we as a nation define, measure and report poverty is emotionally charged and can often generate more heat than light.
Many times, when the conversation turns to poverty here in America and in our community, logic and rationality can go out the window. And when that happens the possibility of any useful follow-up discussion about what, if anything, can and should be done to assist those who are not making it financially becomes almost impossible.
But in these scary and challenging economic times, it’s even more critical to have these kinds of discussions as more and more Ohioans find themselves closer to the margins and living on the edge.
I’ve seen it many times. Just using terms like “poverty”, “poor” or “low-income” can conjure up arguments, resentments, political agendas and a host of other distractions that don’t help us get any closer to answering the real question that we as citizens of any income level or political viewpoint should want to know: Exactly how much money does it take to be economically self-sufficient right here in our community? In other words, exactly how much money is required to be able to pay the basic bills without any family, charitable or government assistance?
If conservatives, liberals and everybody else could just find common ground on what economic self-sufficiency really means in the real world – what the REAL bottom line for survival is – then we could discuss and debate what we should do about it in a more meaningful way. We might not agree on the policy prescriptions or action agenda for helping people become more self sufficient but, at least, we could start the discussion on the same page.
With a new President and Congress (on the horizon) the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies (OACAA) – the organization representing Ohio’s XX locally-governed poverty-fighting organizations – believed the time was right to answer this question for each of Ohio’s 88 counties. So, they asked the University of Washington to develop something called The Ohio Self Sufficiency Standard for 2008.
The Ohio Self-Sufficiency Standard uses a proven formula and real world data to determine exactly the minimum amount of money it takes to pay the rent, buy food, cover child care, get to work and just cover the basics without any savings, fun or frills in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.
Right here in XXXXXX County, for example, two working parents with an infant need to earn at a minimum of $XX,XXX a year to be considered self sufficient; that’s $X.XX per hour per parent. Again, this represents the REAL bottom line of what it takes to just get by. That figure is well above the federal poverty guidelines, which determine eligibility for programs like Head Start and Medicaid that can help low income working people better be able to hold onto a job. That figure is well above the minimum wage. In fact that figure is more than most jobs in Ohio pay.
The Ohio Self Sufficiency Standard presents a budget and the necessary income to meet that budget for various family sizes and configurations in every Ohio county along with full information on how the researchers determined each county’s self-sufficiency budgets. You can access the full report at: www.oacaatraining.org (or newspaper web site, if posted there).As you look through the report and digest the numbers keep these things in mind:
- The families who live below the self-sufficiency standard or even below the federal government’s definition of poverty – which is usually around half of the self-sufficiency standard – are by-and-large working families. They aren’t on welfare. They aren’t slacking off. They work low wage jobs and are treading water. Sadly today, with fewer jobs and lower wages in every corner of Ohio, working is too often not a ticket to true self sufficiency;
- In order to survive and be able to raise a family on wages that pay below the self-sufficiency standard, we believe – especially now -- that a solid system of work supports needs to be in place – child care assistance, health care, job-training and skills development, housing vouchers, etc. – to reward work and help assure families can cover the basics that low wages do not until additional training and job success moves them toward real self-sufficiency;
- We also believe that the federal Poverty Guidelines used to determine eligibility for these kinds of work supports should be adjusted to be closer to the self-sufficiency family budgeting standard in the report rather than the artificially low and outdated methods used to calculate them today.
Look through the self-sufficiency standard for your county and ask yourself if the numbers make sense as a way to determine a survival baseline. If they do, then join us in the coming dialogue on how we can assure more Ohio working families meet and ultimately exceed this standard.
XXXXXXX is XXXXXXXXXXXX====================================================================
Monday, October 6, 2008
These families cannot meet their basic needs. The economic depression is here for them now. They must frequently depend on food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. They are doubled and tripled up in their housing.
The annual TANF appropriation for the nation is about $16 billion. The Food Stamp program appropriation is about $35 billion. Both have been reauthorized by Congress in the past few years. There were no emergency meetings of Congress, no pleas from the White House, no media attention to address the 3 million American children who are hungry by design. Yet, Congress is willing to spend $700 billion to bail out Wall Street.
My question to those that want to balance the state budget is," Are you willing to do that at the expense of the poor and especially the children."Someone with more power than a County Director must do something about this problem as I have personally done all that I can with the monies I have received. The choice is yours to ignore the situation or actually care about the people of Ohio. It is time to FACE OHIO'S PROBLEMS FOR THE POOR....NOT TURN YOUR BACKS !
Sherry L. Sterner
Director Perry Co. Dept. of Job & Family Services
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Be a voice for many who often aren't able to make their own voices heard. Don't let our state and federal elected officials turn away from their responsibility to ensure all Ohioans and all Americans have their basic needs met when they need a safety net. Use the links below to contact your elected officials and express your support to focus on basic needs as a first priority.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The agency wants the community to recognize that this is a serious issue that is affecting the safety and well being of the children of this county.
Friday, August 15, 2008
In July, 2008, Athens County Children Services caseworkers were asked whether or not poverty, the inability of parents to meet basic needs, were putting children at risk of abuse and neglect. The following are some of the responses from agency staff:
“I am so scared for families this winter. Although there is HEAP and other programs, some families face their utilities being turned off all the time. With the rise in gas prices, I fear for families this winter.”
“Transportation in this rural area is huge. How can they get to a job without a care and how can they save to buy a car without a job? It’s a vicious cycle.”
“I have seen families running out of food stamps well before the end of the month due to high food costs. I have shopped with a mother who did not buy her six children milk because it is too expensive.”
“80% of the elementary students in the school district qualify for free/reduced lunches this year, compared with 67% last year.”
“Transportation is a huge problem. Families become isolated and bored; parents become stressed and depressed. Even if we give families free pool passes, how do they get there?”
“I recently worked with a single mother with several children on cash assistance and food stamps. This family has no transportation, relying on others for transportation. They live in a two bedroom trailer in poor repair and inadequate furniture. The mother needs mental health services, but cannot get transportation for service or the funds to pay for medication….The family does not have the resources to function successfully: no bank account, no money to save, no transportation, medical bills they cannot afford and housing which is not suitable.”
“Families are often unable to afford housing, so they move from family to friends. The children do not have a home, no regular schools and no consistency. Some of these moves put children in homes with adults who are not safe around children.”
“The local homeless shelter has been full for the past several months, so homeless families have no place to go.”
“Parents have no medical cards and cannot get treatment for depression or other mental health problems.”
1. The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3; Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Washington, DC, 1996), the most comprehensive federal source of information about the incidence of child maltreatment in the United States, found poverty/family income was significantly related to incidence rates in nearly every category of maltreatment. Reseachers noted that there are a number of problems associated with poverty that may contribute to child maltreatment: more transient residence, poorer education, and higher rates of substance abuse and emotional disorders. Moreover, families at the lower socioeconomic levels have less adequate social support systems to assist parents in their child care responsibilities.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
There is a Latin saying, "Ut sementem feceris, ita metes" (As you sow, so shall you reap). Ohio needs to take a serious look at it's priorities. Until we begin to raise the quality of life for the poorest of the poor, we will continue to pay a higher cost on the back end (i.e., families falling apart) for our lack of investment on the front.
Jody Walker, Director
Vinton County Department of Job and Family Services
Friday, July 25, 2008
Their message: we must “focus on the basics” and place a greater priority on local, state and federal resources for the poorest of the poor. The gaping holes in the government safety net for Ohio families has many without sufficient income to meet their basic human needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Our government’s failure to prioritize the needs of the poorest of the poor is causing increased hardships among those least suited to survive them. Simultaneously, other challenges facing many of these same families are growing worse as they must focus all of their energy on simply surviving. We must provide sufficient benefits through our safety net programs to meet all basic needs for these families. This is already a crisis for the people affected by these issues.
We call upon our state and federal elected representatives to not turn away from these serious problems.
We must take immediate action!
Please contact your federal and state elected officials to urge them to address these issues!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The gaping holes in the government safety net for Ohio families has many without sufficient income to meet their basic human needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Our government’s failure to prioritize the needs of the poorest of the poor is causing increased hardships among those least suited to survive them. Simultaneously, other challenges facing many of these same families are growing worse as they must focus all of their energy on simply surviving. We must “focus on the basics” and place a greater priority on local, state and federal resources for the poorest of the poor.
Ohio Works First (OWF) Client Surveys
These quotes represent a sample of the responses by OWF clients to the following question:
"What financial or medical hardships are you facing?"
“Every month I live with the fear of being evicted. I’m a single mom with two children…and if that were to happen, I have nowhere to go. I currently get OWF $410, but my rent is $425 not including utilities, or diapers, wipes, toilet paper, shampoo, soap, laundry detergent or gas for my van. Because of all the rising costs, I’m digging a financial hole every month I can’t get out of. This causes a lot of depression, despair and worry. I’m so busy with the worry of money, I can’t even enjoy my children as much as I would like to. Please, please help us, this can’t go on. Somebody be our voice. Sincerely…”
“I feel kind of a let-down and basically worthless to my son. If I had a car and extra money to feed him our hopes would begin to open up doors.”
“…I am a single father taking care of my 4-year old daughter…I have realized that due to the high bottle gas prices (which is a necessity to have in my home for cooking, heating, and having hot water for showers) and now the rising prices for automotive gasoline, complications have developed in my ability to provide my daughter with new clothing and new shoes when she needs them. This situation is also hurting my daughter due to our home and our vehicle (our only form of transportation), needing desperate repairs done to them. I could sit here and write a novel to you regarding all of the financial, physical, and mental hardships that I face on a day to day basis.”
“…There are days we don’t get to eat a solid meal, just soup and bread if we are lucky…”
“I am a single parent trying to raise 2 children on $410 a month because my doc says I’m unable to work…by the time you pay your utilities you have nothing left so you are struggling every month just to survive…”
Thursday, April 24, 2008
We call on the Governor and the Ohio General Assembly to support the following:
• Public assistance benefits through the Ohio Works First program should be increased by $100 per month. Currently, the average family receives a combined income of cash and Food Stamps at roughly 50% of the poverty level.
• Health care services must be available to all adults earning less than 100% of the federal poverty level. Individuals not eligible for Medicaid lack the capacity to provide themselves with essential health care.
• Mental health and substance abuse services must be available to all adults and children below the poverty level. Treatment is often jeopardized by a lack of basic needs. Personal and financial recovery must proceed together.
• The disability determination process must be fixed. With two systems (Medicaid and Social Security) to navigate, people waste months or years trying to get the help they need.
We call upon the President and Congress to address the related federal issues:
• Food Stamp benefits are too low. Food Stamp benefits must be increased to meet 100% of the nutritional needs of poor families. Food Stamps are intended to supplement about 75% of a family’s nutritional needs. The presumption is people could make up the difference. With stagnant income levels and the increased cost of living, this is not possible. The end result overwhelms our food pantries and soup kitchens.
• Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are too low and need to be increased substantially. Payments for the elderly and disabled, in Ohio, average $430 a month (about 55% of the poverty level). Maximum payment is $637 per month (75% of the poverty level). These people cannot work, yet they are forced to live with the constant struggle to meet their basic needs.
We must provide sufficient benefits through our safety net programs to meet all basic needs for these families. This is already a crisis for the people affected by these issues.
We call upon our state and federal elected representatives to not turn away from these serious problems.
We must take immediate action!
Please contact your federal and state elected officials to urge them to address these issues!
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Simultaneously, other challenges facing many of these same families are growing worse as a result of insufficient support for basic child welfare, mental health and substance abuse programs. These issues are bound together. It is virtually impossible to resolve many of the behavioral health issues families are facing when they must focus all of their energy on simply surviving. We must place a greater priority on financial resources for the poorest of the poor. We understand that, in these difficult economic times, many working poor families are struggling and need assistance. We certainly support all efforts to provide as much as we possibly can to aid these families. But we feel very strongly that support should not come at the expense of those who are still even poorer and have even fewer services available.
Therefore, we are calling on the Governor and the Ohio General Assembly to support the following:
• Public assistance benefits offered through the Ohio Works First program should be increased by $100 per month as previously proposed by Representative Jimmy Stewart. Currently, the average family receives a combined income of cash and Food Stamps at roughly 50% of the poverty level.
• Health care services must be available to all adults who earn less than 100% of the federal poverty level. Individuals who are not eligible for Medicaid lack the capacity to provide themselves with essential health care and, as a result, cause serious problems that affect the rest of the family, including their children.
• Mental health and substance abuse services must be available to all adults and children below the poverty level. Families dealing with these issues often have their treatment jeopardized by a lack of basic human needs. Personal and financial recovery must proceed together.
• The disability determination process must be fixed. With two separate systems (Medicaid and Social Security) to navigate, disabled people waste many months or years trying to get the help they need. Meanwhile, they suffer without much needed health care and income.
The failure of Ohio to deal effectively with these issues has created serious and unnecessary hardships for poor families and individuals. We have created an overwhelming demand for emergency food and housing services which continues to grow. Untreated mental health and substance abuse problems decimate already poor families. The ability of these individuals to obtain or retain employment is greatly challenged by inadequate health and behavioral health services.
We call upon the President and Congress to address the federal issues related to this problem:
• Food Stamp benefits are too low. Food Stamp benefits must be increased to meet 100% of the nutritional needs of poor families and the minimum benefit level should increase from $10 to $100 a month. Currently, Food Stamps are intended to provide about 75% of a family's nutritional needs. The presumption is that people could make up the difference with their cash. With stagnant income levels for the poor and the increased cost of living, this is not possible. The end result overwhelms our food pantries and soup kitchens.
• Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are too low and therefore need to be increased substantially. SSI payments for the elderly and disabled in Ohio average $430 a month or about 55% of the federal poverty level. The maximum payment is $637 per month or 75% of the federal poverty level. These people cannot work, yet we force them to live with the constant struggle to meet their basic needs.
We call upon our state and federal elected representatives to not turn away from these serious problems. We must take immediate action. This is already a crisis for the people affected by these issues.
$100 a Month OWF Grant Increase
There are 125,000 children who depend on the Ohio Works First TANF-funded cash assistance program. These families are very poor. We spend a great deal of money, time and effort through our local County Department of Job and Family Services offices to prove that families receiving OWF assistance don’t have other resources and comply with all program work requirements and time limits. After all this, we give them only about half of the money we know they need to live on. There is no doubt that this has caused many hardships for these children and their families. We provide a typical OWF family with about $320 a month in cash and $280 in Food Stamps. This does not meet their basic needs. Ohio has developed the largest balance of unspent TANF funds in the nation because we are unwilling to provide a decent level of assistance for these kids. The Governor’s budget calls for a “cost of living adjustment” in January of 2009, at a cost of $4.6 million. For a family of three, this equates to roughly a 3% increase, or about $10 a month. These children will clearly be much worse off in a year than they are now. Although the Governor’s budget does a lot to help children, it does not help our poorest children.
Health Care for All Adults below the Poverty Level
Much has been said during recent years about the state of health care and its availability. Some feel health care is a basic need and should be universally available regardless of socioeconomic status. Others disagree, calling such an approach “socialized medicine,” thus politicizing the process and making the issue a heated debate. No matter which side of that ideological fence one chooses, it is undeniable that those with health insurance, and thus access to health care, live a different lifestyle that those without it. Many Americans are facing tough choices about whether to take medicine that enables them to live in better health or to feed their families. The basic medical procedures that many of us take for granted are being denied to people who do not have insurance, as health care facilities often will not even attend to an uninsured patient. Additionally, the poor cannot afford to practice preventive medicine. Medicaid and Medicare help children, the elderly and those who are disabled. The OWF program provides health care for some adults, but many poor parents and other adults are not eligible for Medicaid and can’t afford health services.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for All Poor Adults
We must increase access to mental health and substance abuse services for all adults who need services and live below the federal poverty level. With state funding cuts and the increased need to provide local funds for Medicaid match, services to non-Medicaid adults are extremely limited. Medicaid primarily serves elderly, disabled or child clients. Other poor adults are covered only in very limited circumstances. As a result, many are not eligible for Medicaid funded behavioral health services.
This creates a dual challenge to recovery and treatment. Much needed counseling or support services are limited or not available and the adult is left struggling with the day-to-day challenge of meeting their basic human needs.
The impact of untreated mental health or substance abuse issues goes far beyond the individual to affect the whole family and community in general. The state must fund adequate behavioral health services for everyone below the poverty level.
Social Security Disability and SSI Denials
We must reform the disability determination process. The majority of applicants for Social Security Disability or SSI are denied at the time of their initial application. Although 60% of all applicants who appeal an initially denied claim are eventually approved for disability benefits, the 1.5-2.5 year process can have devastating affects on them and their families. Not only are their financial futures in jeopardy, but so is there personal health. Despite their best efforts, they are unable to meet the basic needs of their families.
Waiting more than a year to receive benefits puts an additional strain on already hurting families. The number of backlogged cases is continuing to rise. Unless this issue is addressed, disabled workers who have paid into a system they thought they could depend on will continue to be let down, and the wait will only continue to grow.
Many people have lost their homes, and some their lives, while waiting to receive benefits. These people put their faith into a system that was supposed to help. The system has failed them and could fail thousands more if immediate, effective changes are not made. We must take adequate steps to reduce the number of initially denied applicants.
Overlooking the Basics
Policymakers have cited the importance of early childhood intervention in preparing children for a successful education. Numerous studies have documented the importance of providing children with a variety of education, childcare and parenting programs to help accomplish this goal. Unfortunately, the most important factor in promoting a child’s readiness and success in school is often overlooked or ignored: a safe, stable and secure family.
Programs that address education and child care will not work for families or children who do not have their basic needs met first. Children who are facing continual chaotic or stressful lives due to extreme poverty in their families will not thrive no matter how much their school or daycare improves. By having policies that assure that hundreds of thousands of children will spend time in households that can’t meet their basic needs, we are undermining the potential success of our early childhood intervention efforts.
We must provide sufficient benefits through our safety net programs to meet all basic needs for these families. Below are comments from studies on child care, school readiness and brain development. They all emphasize the prime importance of a safe, secure, and stable family as a prerequisite for success:
“The major providers of early childhood experience are parents. Programs to support and strengthen the family will increase the likelihood of optimal childhood experiences.”
Child Trauma Academy. http://www.childtrauma.org/. How Experiences in Early Childhood Create a Healthy Society.
“In marked contrast to the child-care effects just described, parenting quality significantly predicted all the developmental outcomes and much more strongly than did any of the child-care predictors.”
Belsky, Jay; Vandell, Deborah Lowe; Burchinal, Margaret; Clarke-Stewart, K. Alison; McCartney, Kathleen; Owen, Margaret Tresch. The NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2007). Are There Long-Term Effects of Early Child Care? Child Development, March/April 2007, Volume 78, Number 2, pages 693.
“The family plays the most important role in a young child’s life. Public policies should seek to support families in this role and to expand parents’ options for the care, health, and education of their children.”
National Governors Association. Final Report of the NGA Task Force on School Readiness. Building the Foundation for Bright Futures, page 1. Found at: http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0501TaskForceReadiness.pdf, last accessed January 3, 2008.
“Responsibility for school readiness lies not with children, but with the adults who care for them and the systems that support them. Public policies should seek to provide comprehensive information, resources, and support to all who are responsible for children’s development.”
National Governors Association. Final Report of the NGA Task Force on School Readiness. Building the Foundation for Bright Futures, page 1. Found at: http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0501TaskForceReadiness.pdf, last accessed January 3, 2008.
“The NGA Task Force on School Readiness believes that the family plays the most important role in a young child’s life. Parents have the primary responsibility for nurturing, teaching, and providing for their children. It is the relationship between parent and child that is the most critical for the positive development of children. Children need supportive, nurturing environments. However, the new economy has brought changes in the workforce and in family life. These changes are causing financial, physical, and emotional stresses in families, particularly low-income families… Consequently, the role of parents and the condition of families should be central concerns for policymakers interested in promoting school readiness.”
National Governors Association. Final Report of the NGA Task Force on School Readiness. Building the Foundation for Bright Futures, page 7. Found at: http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0501TaskForceReadiness.pdf, last accessed January 3, 2008.
“Parents play a primary role in the development of their children. Children who experience sensitive, responsive care from a parent perform better academically and emotionally in the early elementary years. At the same time, not surprisingly, financial and emotional stresses negatively impact parents’ well-being and adversely affect their attentiveness and sensitivity to their children. For children who receive most of their care from a parent in the home, it seems clear that providing families with the resources, information, and tools they need is an appropriate approach for promoting school readiness.”
National Governors Association. Final Report of the NGA Task Force on School Readiness. Building the Foundation for Bright Futures, page 13. Found at: http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0501TaskForceReadiness.pdf, last accessed January 3, 2008.
The above recommendations are endorsed by the following:
Athens-Hocking-Vinton 317 Board, Earl Cecil, Executive Director
Athens County Job and Family Services, Jack Frech, Director http://jfs.athenscountygovernment.com/
Athens County Children Services, Andrea Reik, Director http://www.athenschildrenservices.com/
Hocking County Job and Family Services, Robert Smith, Director
350 State Route 664 North, P.O. Box 548 Logan, Ohio 43138-0548
Hocking County Children Services, Cathy Hill, Director
93 West Hunter Street Logan, Ohio 43138
Vinton County Job and Family Services & Children Services, Jody Walker, Director
30975 Industry Park Drive McArthur, Ohio 45651