By Ed Runyan
A change to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services rules governing a program that gives cash assistance to families with dependent children has reduced the number of people in the program.
Renee Robinson, program administrator at the Trumbull County Department of Job and Family Services, said Ohio JFS enacted the new requirement Oct. 1, 2013, to encourage able-bodied participants in the Ohio Works First program to get education or training, or to participate in JFS work programs while on the program.
In Trumbull County, the work typically involves janitorial or clerical duties for county or state agencies.
The change has achieved an increase in compliance on a statewide basis and in Trumbull County, with the Trumbull compliance rate climbing from an average of 51.5 percent in 2012 to 63 percent in 2013, Robinson said.
It also reduced the number of families using the program from 214 in November 2013 to 160 in February of this year.
Robinson said the new accountability requirements apparently are viewed as too much trouble for some families. Other families apparently dropped off because they found work, she said.
The Columbus Dispatch reported at the end of January that Ohio’s welfare rolls have dropped to record lows, but poverty persists.
The change involves the things a family must do to become eligible to get back on the program after being removed for non-compliance, Robinson said.
Before, a family that didn’t meet the required 30-hour training/work requirement would be allowed to apply after a 30-day, 90-day or 180-day suspension, depending on whether it was the first, second or third violation.
But that led to a “revolving door” of families that would fail to comply, be removed, reapply, return to the program for about two months, fail to comply and be removed again, Robinson said.
The program has had a limit of 36 months of benefits, though a county JFS can approve an extension. Each county sets its own policies for hardship and good-cause extensions.
Under the new rules, a family that has been removed for failing to comply must meet the rules for two weeks and undergo an assessment to “prove themselves” before they can get back on the program, Robinson said.
“It’s the federal government putting down requirements for accountability and moving the families from assistance to the workforce,” said John Gargano, Trumbull JFS director. “It’s a slow process, but we keep working hard to get people off of the assistance rolls.”
The federal government motivated the changes in Ohio and across the nation, establishing a requirement that 55 percent of able-bodied adults in families in the program meet the work activities at least 30 hours per week, or the state would receive sanctions.
Most states, including Ohio, and most counties in Ohio were able to meet the requirement. Ohio’s rate is 55.2 percent since October 2013. Trumbull’s rate over that time is 59.1 percent; Mahoning County’s rate is 57.3 percent; and Columbiana County’s rate is 61.7 percent.
By comparison, Trumbull County’s rate was as low as 37 percent in 2010 — before the new rules, Robinson said.
The state is rolling out another initiative this year that involves trying to achieve a higher compliance level for two-parent families in the program. They would be expected to comply at a 95 percent rate.
That would be a drastic increase because they currently comply at the same rate as all families — 59 percent across Ohio, 62 percent in Trumbull County, 68 percent in Mahoning, and 52 percent in Columbiana. Two-parent households make up about 14 percent of the Trumbull County families in the program.