Thursday, May 28, 2009

TJ's amazing story

TJ is a 26-year-old Athens County resident who has overcome a very rare and dangerous medical condition. His family receives Medicaid, and they are thankful for all of the ways that the program helps them. At the same time, they see several other ways that it could provide assistance to TJ. For example, TJ's family cannot afford to add a bathroom onto the house that would allow him to take a full bath or shower. The Medicaid payments also do not pay for many of the supplies he needs, such as a simple straps and a new air mattress. To read about TJ and his family, click here.
To read stories about other Athens County Job and Family Services clients and the struggles they are facing and overcoming, or to watch videos about a few of the clients, click here.
TJ is shown in the photo with his neice, Paris. Photo by Rachel Mummey.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Testimony presented to an Ohio Senate subcommittee about Ohio Works First funding, state budget priorities and a proposal to eliminate school fees

Presented by Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services on May 20, 2009.
Click here for a link to an Ohio Works First fact sheet that was presented with the testimony.
Click here for comments from several Athens County residents about the Ohio Works First cash assistance program and the need to eliminate school fees.

Chairman Carey, Ranking Member Dale Miller and members of the committee, 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 (OWF) 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 combinedwith food stamps, the total benefits are only slightly above the federal poverty level.

Today in Ohio, more than 140,000 children 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 and then we give them half of what we know they need to live on. I know of no other government policy that 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 $259 a month for the full-time care of a child, which compares to:
• An average per child per month cost for childcare of about $450.
• Monthly foster care payments of 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 abusetreatments 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 assistancethrough the OWF program. While an additional $100 would not solve the problems these families face, it would make a hugedifference 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 automobiles, provide gas vouchers for new hires, and pay for training, tools anduniforms 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 campfor 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.

I would also ask that the committee consider the elimination of school fees. Currently, practice has created a regressive and counter productive form of taxation that disproportionately harms the same low-income families that many of the administration’s education reforms are intended to help.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of my testimony.

Monday, May 4, 2009