OHIO Counties expected to cut aid to poor



The shortfall is the result of a state accounting error.
STAFF/WIRE REPORT
COLUMBUS -- Massive cuts in staff and in programs for the poor are expected as the state struggles to fix an accounting error that resulted in overspending millions of dollars in federal aid, officials said.
Local Job and Family Services agencies, however, don't expect layoffs will result because of the error.
"I've had a lot of panicked directors calling. They know they've already overrun the funding streams, and we're not even three months into the fiscal year yet," said Loretta Adams, head of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors' Association. "I'm telling them to put on the life preserver."
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services planned today to announce how it expects to fix the problem created when the agency failed to report how it was spending Temporary Aid to Needy Families money.
As a result, the state used federal welfare money to pay its share of administrative costs for food-stamp and Medicaid programs that require a 50 percent state match.
The state agency also planned today to provide county agencies with revised figures on how much money they will get this year for welfare, health care and other assistance.
Local agencies
Eileen Dray-Bardon, director of the Columbiana County Department of Job and Family Services, says she doesn't expert her department to be affected by any effort by the state JFS to collect extra funds spent by some county agencies.
The state encouraged agencies to overspend on costs in the food-stamp and Medicare programs, saying they would not have to repay the money, she said. Those county agencies may have to repay money. Columbiana, however, stayed within its allocation and won't, she said.
The two programs employ about 50 workers in Columbiana County. They are entitlement programs, which means people seeking help must receive it.
Thomas Mahoney, director of Trumbull County Job and Family Services, doesn't anticipate layoffs because of the change. Department staffers determine eligibility for specialized programs such as Medicaid and child care and that may need to change to a more generalized approach.
"We're looking at radically changing the way we do business," he said. "That's not a good way to do business."
The Medicaid and food-stamp programs have the highest number of Trumbull County recipients in Mahoney's memory, he said. Temporary Aid to Needy Families, also sometimes called cash assistance, has the lowest number of recipients.
Dee Crawford, Mahoning County JFS director, said she and other directors will know more details when they meet Tuesday with Tom Hayes, director of the state department. Hayes declined Wednesday to detail how the agency will address the shortfall.
Crawford said Mahoning County could lose money in the range of six to seven figures, but the agency has federal money it could use to offset those losses.
"We're not happy, but we don't know what the end result will be," she added.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is investigating the financial error, and federal regulators have told state officials they must fix the problem before the end of the fiscal year. Ohio Auditor Betty Montgomery said that an annual agency audit her office recently began will focus on the issue.
Will lose flexibility
Millions of dollars will be drawn from various sources to make up the shortfall, but counties no longer will have the flexibility to spend the funds where they are needed, county officials have said.
Counties now have the flexibility to direct money where it is most needed -- cash assistance, Medicaid, food stamps and other programs for the poor.
That flexibility has been keeping welfare rolls at their lowest levels in more than three decades and has allowed counties to direct funds to benefits for the working poor as people moved off cash assistance.

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