Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Testimony presented to Ohio House of Representatives subcommittee

House Finance and Appropriations Committee
Human Services Subcommittee

Testimony of Jack Frech, Director,
Athens County Department of Job and Family Services

Here is a link to an Ohio Works First fact sheet presented with the testimony.
Here is a link to a document telling the stories of a few of our clients. This document was also presented with the testimony.

Chairwoman Brown, ranking Member Burke and members of the subcommittee. I am Jack Frech, Director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services.
I am here today to request that the benefit level for the Ohio Works First Program be increased by at least $100 a month. According to the Governor’s budget proposal, the average OWF benefit is $358 per month. Under his plan, these families will only receive increased benefits of about $19 a month over the next two years. Even when combined with food stamps, the total benefits still are only slightly over half of the federal poverty level.

Today in Ohio, there are more than 140,000 children who depend on the OWF program. Their families are faced with daily struggles to meet the most very basic of human needs. They are often hungry, cold and living in substandard housing. It must be remembered that these are the families who are living by all of the rules of the “reformed welfare” system. They have work requirements, time limits, and strict eligibility requirements. We go to great lengths to verify that they are dirt poor, then we give them half of what we know they need to live on. I know of no other government policy which is as intentionally harmful to children.

Half of these children live with grandparents or other relatives. In a typical situation, a grandmother would receive only about $259 a month for the full time care of a child. That amount compares to:
• An average per child per month cost for childcare is about $450.
• Monthly foster care payments are about $600.
• Monthly payments for the Early Learning Initiative are over $1000.

Intervention programs to help these families such as job training, education , parenting classes, counseling and substance abuse treatment are all unlikely to succeed when so much energy must be focused simply on surviving. When parents are worried about how they are going to feed their children or where they are going to sleep at night, it makes it difficult to succeed in these other programs.

Currently, only about one third of the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families block grant is spent on direct cash assistance through the OWF program. While an additional $100 would not solve the problems these families face, it would make a huge difference in their daily struggle.

I would also ask that the committee restore the funds the Governor’s budget cut from the Counties. These funds have been used to provide a wide range of essential services to low income families as well as offer job and education support. Our agency is losing $1.3 million and 34 staff positions with the following consequences;
• Cuts in eligibility workers and job counselors will increase caseloads by at least 25%
• Work support programs to repair autos, provide gas vouchers for new hires, and pay for training, tools and uniforms have been eliminated.
• Nurses to conduct home visits to help families whose caretakers are disabled have been eliminated.
• A very successful dental access and other supportive health programs have been eliminated.
• A program to provide computers for low income children is gone.
• Contracts for Child welfare services, domestic violence intervention, home delivered meals, summer education camp for poor kids and Big Brothers Big Sisters have been terminated.

All of these cuts have been made at a time when our caseloads for cash assistance, food stamps and other programs are increasing. More and more people need our help, but Ohio has reduced the funding for the programs that have proven to be successful in helping these families.

Our families also struggle with a lack of behavioral health services, especially for adults. Mental health and substance abuse issues are far too prevalent in our clients’ lives. We must commit ourselves to ensuring that the appropriate services are there when needed.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of my testimony.