by Nick Swartsell
67 days ago
Posted In: News
at 11:03 AM | Permalink
Proposed welfare reforms could make "one stop shops" for services; is Miley Cyrus planning a Leelah Alcorn benefit concert?; Bush campaign operative resigns after offensive online comments
Good morning! This week is going crazy slow but it’s half over now, so that’s awesome. But the news isn’t going slow, and it’s never half-over. It’s always hurtling forward. Always changing. Growing. Watching. Ok. Maybe not watching. But those other things. Sorry. I didn’t get much sleep last night. Let’s get to it. Gov. John Kasich yesterday came to Cincinnati to detail his plans for reforming the state’s welfare program to leaders from a number of county social service agencies. Kasich says his plan will simplify welfare services in Ohio, which can currently sometimes be a complicated array of various service providers clients must navigate to get help. Kasich would like to gather as many services as possible under a single roof, saving the state money. Those agencies that don’t go along with the plan could lose state funding. But some providers are wary of too much consolidation, as various agencies in different counties often serve very different populations. Kasich called those concerns “turf battles,” though some providers see the issue differently. Kasich has yet to release all the details of his proposed changes.• The debate over what to do about Hamilton County’s morgue and crime lab is turning into something of a shouting match. Republican Hamilton County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann clearly hit a nerve last week when he called Hamilton County’s crime lab “a luxury item.” Now Democrats are firing back at the assertion. Yesterday, Hamilton County Democrat Chairman Tim Burke berated Hartmann in a letter suggesting the commissioner is playing politics with the crime lab and morgue, which have been at the center of a county budget debate. Both offices, which share a building on University of Cincinnati’s medical campus, are in need of extensive upgrades. “I’m sorry, but the need for a modern morgue and crime lab is so clear that I can only conclude that your failure to fulfill the Commissioner’s duty to provide that must be due to the fact that our County Coroner is a Democrat who you don’t want to see succeed,” Burke said in the letter.All parties agree the lab needs updating. Republican Commissioners Hartmann and Chris Monzel, however, say retrofitting a former hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county will be too expensive at $100 million. They’re suggesting the possibility of partnering with neighboring governments to create a regional lab. Conditions in the current building are so cramped that neither the crime lab nor the morgue has room for the extra employees it needs to process the increasing amount of work it must undertake. Other issues include an outdated electrical grid that won’t allow all the lab’s equipment to be plugged in at the same time and an insufficient plumbing system beneath the building that causes the build up of autopsy debris.• Sticking with news about the county for another beat, 100 Hamilton County poll workers have been dismissed from their jobs for not voting in the last election. Officials with the Hamilton County Board of Elections have said they want to encourage voting, and if their employees aren’t doing it, it sends the wrong message. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s kind of like wearing American Apparel when you work there or tweeting your articles when you’re a reporter — probably a good idea, but mandatory? Seems a little harsh. • A quick bit of gossip and speculation: is Miley Cyrus planning a benefit concert in memory of Leelah Alcorn? Could be. Recent social media posts by Cyrus show rehearsals for an upcoming project and a notebook that says “Leelah set list,” the Columbus Dispatch reports. Alcorn, a transgender teen, died Dec. 28 after throwing herself in front of a truck on I-71. She left a suicide note on social media explaining the isolation she felt when her family did not support her transgender status. • Three people were killed this morning in Chapel Hill, North Carolina after a gunman entered their home and shot each in the head. The alleged gunman, forty six-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in immediately following the shooting deaths of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all local university students. Though no official motive has been determined, the killings may have involved the fact the three were Muslim. Hicks, an outspoken atheist, had recently put photos of guns on social media as well as writing anti-religious posts.• Finally, a high-level campaign operative for potential presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush resigned today after racially and sexually charged comments he allegedly made online recently came to light. Ethan Czahor was chief technology officer for Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee. In Twitter posts before he was hired in January, Czahor made disparaging remarks about gay men and called women “sluts.” One grade-A post from 2009 reads, “new study confirms old belief: college female art majors are sluts, science majors are also sluts but uglier." Wow. Bush’s campaign initially called the tweets inappropriate but let Czahor stay on. He resigned yesterday after other racially insensitive statements attributed to him were found on a website for a radio show he worked on in 2008.
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 25, 2013
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.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:48 PM | Permalink
Governor not pursuing waiver for restrictions as economy supposedly recovers
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. Assuming three meals a day, that adds up to slightly more
than $2 per meal.
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
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
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
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.
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 25, 2013
In the middle of a state economy mired in
stagnant growth, Gov. John Kasich and his fellow Republicans are
attempting to weaken a key safety net that benefits more than 1.8
by German Lopez
Food stamp rules to hit locals, city defends allowances, charterites oppose pension initiative
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. That means "able-bodied"
childless adults will have to work or attend work training sessions for 20 hours a week starting in October to continue getting food assistance. The renewed rules are coming just one month before federal stimulus funds for the food stamp program are set to expire, which will push down the $200-a-month food benefits
to $189 a month, or slightly more than $2 a meal, in November. In light of the new requirements, the Hamilton County
Department of Job and
Family Services will help link people with jobs through local partnerships and
Hamilton County's SuperJobs Center,
but that might be difficult for food stamp recipients who have past
convictions, mental health problems and other barriers to employment.The city administration defended its proposal to restore $26,640 in car allowances
for the mayor, city manager and other director-level positions in the
city government, just a few months after the city narrowly avoided
laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees by making cuts in
various areas, including city parks. City spokesperson Meg Olberding
says car allowances are part of traditional compensation packages in
other cities Cincinnati competes with for recruitment, and she says that
the compensation was promised to city directors when they were first
hired for the jobs. But Councilman Chris Seelbach says the proposal is
out of touch and that he's more concerned about lower-paid city employees,
such as garbage collectors, who haven't gotten a raise in years, much
less a $5,000 car allowance. The Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, came out against the tea party-backed pension ballot initiative. The committee recognizes Cincinnati needs pension reform soon, but it says the tea party proposal isn't the right solution. The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati's pension system so future city employees — excluding cops and firefighters, who are under a different system — would have to contribute to and manage 401k-style retirement accounts. Under the current system, the city pools and manages pension funds through an independent board. Supporters argue the amendment is necessary to deal with the city's growing pension liability, but opponents, including all council members, argue it would actually cost the city more and decrease employees' benefits. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups behind it in further detail here.State Rep. John Becker of Clermont County wants U.S. Judge Timothy Black impeached because the judge ruled Ohio must recognize a Cincinnati same-sex couple's marriage in a death certificate. The judge gave the special order for locals James Obergefell and John Arthur, who is close to death because of a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says if the city were to synchronize its mayoral primary elections with other state and county elections, it could save money by spreading the share of the costs. The Sept. 10 primary cost Cincinnati $437,000. The change would require altering the city charter, which needs voter approval.The Ohio Department of Education will soon release revised report card grades for Cincinnati Public Schools and other school districts following an investigation that found the school districts were scrubbing data in a way that could have benefited their state evaluations.An Ohio bill would ban drivers younger than 21 from driving with non-family members in the car and bump the driving curfew from midnight to 10 p.m., with some exceptions for work and school.A University of Cincinnati football player is dead and three others are injured following a single-car crash.Ohio gas prices rose as the national average dipped.Here is a map of air pollution deaths around the world.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:14 PM | Permalink
Department of Job and Family Services cited for multiple errors
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
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
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
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.
by German Lopez
Gay marriages recognized, facial recognition panel appointed, drug testing for welfare fails
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
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.
by German Lopez
at 01:48 PM | Permalink
Test program would be active in three counties for two years
In a move that is now being
contested by Democrats, Republicans have pushed for a pilot program to make
drug testing a requirement for welfare recipients.
The program will be active in
three counties for two years. It would require anyone suspected of using drugs
to submit to and pay for a drug test. Those who pass would be reimbursed for
the drug test, and those who fail would not get welfare benefits for at least
Republicans claimed the move will
save the state money.
A drug testing program in Florida actually cost the state
money. In Florida, the state government’s program had a net loss of $45,780
after it reimbursed all falsely accused welfare recipients of their drug tests.
Only 108 people out of the 4,086 accused, or 2.9 percent, tested positive, and
most tested positive for marijuana, according to The Miami Herald.
One Senate Democrat told The Columbus Dispatch that
if welfare recipients are to be tested, so should corporations that receive
public funds because there is “no evidence” that poor people have higher rates
of drug abuse.
That claim is supported by the limited research in the area.
One study by California’s Healthy Kids Survey in 2007 found affluent kids have
higher rates of drug use than poor kids. Another study by the National
Institutes of Health in 1996 found that welfare recipients are not more likely
to do drugs than the rest of the population and non-welfare recipients.
The ACLU sued Florida over its
program in September, leading to a temporary stop on drug testing. The
organization has repeatedly argued drug-testing laws violate the Fourth
Amendment, which protects all citizens against “unreasonable searches.”
Another drug-testing law in
Michigan was struck down by the courts in 2003.
But states have not been fazed by
questions of constitutionality. Dozens of states have introduced legislation
requiring drug testing in the past year, and a drug-testing law was passed in
Georgia in April.Correction: This story originally stated that the ACLU sued Florida in October. The ACLU actually sued in September.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:33 PM | Permalink
State senator gives proposal another shot in Ohio
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.
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
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
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 7, 2013
More than 1.8 million
Ohioans — 16 percent of the state’s population — will receive
significantly less food aid from the federal government after October.