Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to seek another waiver for federal regulations on food stamps will force 18,000 current recipients in Hamilton County to meet work requirements if they want the benefits to continue.
Under federal law, “able-bodied” childless adults receiving food stamps are required to work or attend work training for 20 hours a week. But when the Great Recession began, the federal government handed out waivers to all states, including Ohio, so they could provide food assistance without placing burdens on under- and unemployed populations.
Kasich isn’t asking for a renewal of that waiver, which means 134,000 Ohioans in most Ohio counties, including 18,000 in Hamilton County, will have to meet the 20-hours-per-week work requirement to get their $200 a month in food aid starting in January, after recipients go through a three-month limit on benefits for those not meeting the work requirements.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services explained earlier in September that the waiver is no longer necessary in all but 16 counties because Ohio’s economy is now recovering from the Great Recession. Two weeks later, the August jobs report put Ohio’s unemployment rate at a one-year high of 7.3 percent after the state only added 0.6 percent more jobs between August 2012 and August this year.
At the same time, the federal government appears ready to allow stimulus funding for food stamp programs to expire in November. The extra money was adopted in the onset of the Great Recession to provide increased aid to those hit hardest by the economic downturn.
That means 18,000 food stamp recipients in Hamilton County will have to meet a 20-hour-per-week work requirements to receive $189 per month — $11 less than current levels — for food aid starting in November.
The $11 loss might not seem like much, but Tim McCartney, chief operating officer at the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services (HCDJFS), says it adds up for no- and low-income individuals.
“Food assistance at the federal level is called SNAP, which is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s not designed to be the entire food budget for yourself or your family. It’s designed to be a supplement. So anything you lose to a supplement, you obviously didn’t have enough in the first place,” McCartney says.
HCDJFS already helps some recipients of other welfare programs meet work requirements through local partnerships. But to avoid further straining those partners with a rush of 18,000 new job-searchers, the county agency is also allowing food stamp recipients to set up their own job and job training opportunities with other local organizations, including neighborhood groups, churches and community centers.
McCartney says he’s also advising people to pursue job opportunities at Cincinnati’s SuperJobs Center, which attempts to link those looking for work with employers. McCartney says the center has plenty of job openings, but many people are unaware of the opportunities.
“This population sometimes has additional barriers with previous convictions or drug and mental health issues that would eventually exempt them, but for others, there are plenty of opportunities right now that we’d like to connect them with,” he says.
Conservatives, especially Republicans, argue the work requirements are necessary to ensure people don’t take advantage of the welfare system to gain easy benefits. But progressives are concerned the restrictions will unfairly hurt the poorest Ohioans and the economy.
Progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio previously found every $1 increase in government food aid produces $1.70 in economic activity.
At the federal level, Republican legislators, including local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, are seeking further cuts to the food stamp program through H.R. 3102, which would slash $39 billion over 10 years from the program. Part of the savings in the bill come from stopping states from obtaining waivers on work requirements.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, decried the bill in a statement: “Congress shouldn’t be turning to Ohio’s poorest people to find savings — especially children and others who are unable to work for their own food. The proposal the Ohio members of Congress supported is immoral, and our lawmakers must work together to represent all their constituents. No one should be in the business of causing hunger, yet that’s the choice the Ohio members of Congress made today.”
The legislation is unlikely to make it through the U.S. Senate, but President Barack Obama promised to veto the bill if it comes to his desk.
Correction: This story previously said the restrictions start removing “able-bodied” childless adults from the rolls in October instead of January.