The Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services (HCDJFS) was reprimanded in a state audit released Thursday that uncovered inadequate protocols and failures to correct previous audits’ findings.
But HCDJFS spokesperson Brian Gregg says a lot of the audit’s findings could be outdated because they’re based on data from 2011. “We’re working on information that is two years old but was just presented to us,” he says.
HCDJFS, which handles the county’s social services and welfare programs, was criticized for not keeping proper documentation and failing to conduct various checks required to gauge whether federal, state and local funds should be used for child support services.
Gregg blames the inadequacies on a bout of temporary chaos caused by funding reductions and layoffs, which he
pinned on state government cuts from 2008 that cost HCDJFS roughly half
its budget. Since then, he says the county has retrained staff to manage the agency’s smaller size.
Gregg also noted that the sampling size for the findings — 25 — was fairly low. “You can get a bad batch,” he says. “I don’t want this to be indicative of the program.”
Instead, Gregg points to county-by-county data for child support that put Hamilton County above all other metropolitan counties in Ohio for cost effectiveness. The data, produced by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in 2012, found Hamilton County is getting $28.52 in child support for every $1 it pays staff to collect support. In comparison, Cuyahoga County’s ratio was $8.56-to-$1 and Franklin County’s was $11.62-to-$1.
“We’re probably the best and most efficient metropolitan county in the state when it comes to child support collection,” Gregg says.
The audit also found HCDJFS paid more than $330,000 in excess rent in 2011, more than $24,000 of which was allocated to local funds while the rest was charged to state and federal funds. A 2010 state audit found similar excess rent charges.
The agency told the state auditor’s office it will continue working with the county budget office and prosecutor to correct the lease agreement that led to the excess rent.
“That’s a result of a way the state interpreted a federal law in 2010,” Gregg says. “We’ve had that lease from ’93 on. There was a change in 2010, and we’re now working with the county to get in compliance.”
HCDJFS employees were also found to be inadequately tracking their working hours, which the agency says it’s now correcting by setting up a new computer system.
The new findings were heaped on top of old errors found in previous state audits, including several misused funds. Many of the old errors remain uncorrected.
But none of the new findings indicated that HCDJFS has to refund money to other government agencies.
“We feel good that there were no findings for recovery. We don’t owe anything. These few things that they did find are managerial, and we’ll work them out,” Gregg says.
The same didn’t apply to one case of overcharge — totaling
$2,400 — at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, which the Sheriff’s Office says led to an investigation and criminal
charges against the property officer supervisor as well as new policies to protect payment systems in the future.
The federal government announced yesterday that same-sex marriages will be recognized for federal tax and Medicare purposes even if the marriage is considered illegal in the state where the couple resides. That means gay Ohioans could get married in a state where it’s legal, such as Massachusetts or California, and have their marriages recognized by the federal government even if the couple lives in Ohio. The change does not apply to Social Security, which will continue basing benefits on where couples live, not where they got married. The changes also won’t apply to taxes at the local and state level until those governments legalize same-sex marriage for themselves. Freedom Ohio is currently working to get same-sex marriage on Ohio’s ballot in 2014, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Attorney General Mike DeWine on Thursday appointed the panel that will review the state’s facial recognition program. It includes Democrats, Republicans, judges, law enforcement and prosecutors, but not civil liberties groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, that asked to be involved. Shortly after the program was formally unveiled on Monday, the ACLU asked DeWine to shut it down until proper protocols are put in place to protect Ohioans’ rights to privacy. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information. Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.
A Republican state senator is introducing legislation that would attach drug testing to welfare benefits in Ohio, but similar measures have failed in other states. Under the proposal, welfare recipients in three counties would be required to take a drug test if they admit in a questionnaire to using drugs in the past six months. In Utah, the state government spent more than $30,000 screening welfare applicants, but only 12 people tested positive, according to Deseret News. The policy has also faced legal troubles, particularly in Florida, but since the Ohio proposal only requires drug testing after information is solicited through a questionnaire, it’s unclear whether privacy concerns will hold up in court.
Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, is speaking out against a $300 million light rail project that would run from downtown Cincinnati to Milford, Ohio. Hartmann says he’s concerned ridership numbers will be low and costs will be too high. County commissioners are involved with the project through the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District.
Ex-Councilman John Cranley continues to outraise and outspend Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in the mayoral race. But money rarely matters in political campaigns, according to research and Cincinnati’s mayoral history.
The conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is asking the city solicitor to force Councilman Chris Seelbach to repay the city for his trip to Washington, D.C., where Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay council member, received the White House’s Champion of Change Award. Seelbach says the trip served a public purpose; mainly, the trip allowed him and his staff to spend time with other award recipients to learn how to better deal with LGBT issues.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble announced it backs legislation that would prevent employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Ohio currently has no such law.
Ohio’s prison population is growing again, which has spurred further calls from state officials to continue pursuing sentencing reform. The state government in 2012 passed some reform that weakened sentences and made it easier for convicts to have their records expunged, but Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr says more needs to be done.
Ohio gun owners are gathering in Columbus today to call on Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to support comprehensive background checks for firearms, according to a press release from Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Polling data released by the group found 83 percent of Ohioans support comprehensive background checks.
A Democratic state representative is asking Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to explain why he’s accused of forcing the Ohio EPA’s top water watchdog to resign, but Kasich’s people don’t seem to be taking the concern too seriously. Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols responded to the demands by telling The Columbus Dispatch, “If she had her way, we’d all be living on a collective farm cooking organic quinoa over a dung fire. So I think we’ll take her views in context.” George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio EPA’s surface-water division, was allegedly asked to step down by Kasich after Elmaraghy claimed Ohio coal companies want water-pollution permits “that may have a negative impact on Ohio’s streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws.” Republican lawmakers are notoriously friendly with oil, gas and coal companies.
Two more are being investigated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections for illegally voting in Ohio while living in other states.
Gas prices are rising in time for Labor Day weekend, but they should be cheaper than last year.
The famous “47 percent” is now down to 43 percent. The Tax Policy Center says the change is driven by the recovering economy, rising incomes and cuts to federal assistance programs.
Antarctica appears to be bleeding in a phenomenon that shows life can exist without sunlight or oxygen.
Popular Science has an explainer for cruise missiles, the weapon that soon may be deployed against Syria.
State Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) is introducing legislation Thursday that would attach mandatory drug testing to welfare benefits, even though similar policies have proven to be costly with little gain in other states.
“It is time that we recognize that many families are trying to survive in drug-induced poverty, and we have an obligation to make sure taxpayer money is not being used to support drug dealers,” Schaffer told The Columbus Dispatch. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to this problem.”
Under the proposal, welfare recipients in three counties would be required to take a drug test if they admit in a questionnaire to using drugs in the past six months. Children, who make up a bulk of welfare recipients, would be exempt. (In June, 24,443 adults and 105,822 children obtained welfare benefits in Ohio, according to data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.)
The policy, which was originally touted as a way to reduce welfare costs, has backfired in many states. That’s why the supporting line is now about preventing dollars from going to drug dealers instead of cost savings.
Deseret News reports the latest problems in Utah: “Utah has spent more than $30,000 to screen welfare applicants for drug use since a new law went into effect a year ago, but only 12 people have tested positive, state figures show.”
When Ohio legislators in 2012 proposed a drug testing requirement for welfare benefits, CityBeat reported another failure in Florida originally covered by The Miami Herald: In that state, the program had a net loss of $45,780 after it reimbursed falsely accused welfare recipients for their drug tests. Only 108 people out of the 4,086 accused, or 2.9 percent, tested positive, and most tested positive for marijuana.
Utah and Florida are among eight states that have enacted drug testing requirements for welfare recipients since 2011, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A court placed an injunction on the Florida program after the American Civil Liberties Union sued on September 2011. That injunction was upheld on Feb. 26 by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which concluded, “The simple fact of seeking public assistance does not deprive a TANF (welfare) applicant of the same constitutional protection from unreasonable searches that all other citizens enjoy.”
Given that Schaffer’s bill would require drug testing only after information is solicited through questionnaires, it’s unclear whether legal challenges like the one in Florida would be successful in Ohio.