Gov. John Kasich's administration will limit food stamps for more than 130,000 adults in all but a few economically depressed areas starting Jan. 1. To qualify for benefits, able-bodied adults without children will be required to spend at least 20 hours a week working, training for a job, volunteering or performing a similar type of activity unless they live in one of 16 counties exempt because of high unemployment.
Gov. John Kasich’s administration will limit food stamps for more than 130,000 adults in all but a few economically depressed areas starting Jan. 1.
To qualify for benefits, able-bodied adults without children will be required to spend at least 20 hours a week working, training for a job, volunteering or performing a similar type of activity unless they live in one of 16 counties exempt because of high unemployment. The requirements begin next month; however, those failing to meet them would not lose benefits until Jan. 1.
“It’s important that we provide more than just a monetary benefit, that we provide job training, an additional level of support that helps put (food-stamp recipients) on a path toward a career and out of poverty,” said Ben Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
For years, Ohio has taken advantage of a federal waiver exempting food-stamps recipients from the work requirements that Kasich championed while U.S. House Budget Committee chairman during the mid-1990s. Kasich and former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, co-sponsored an amendment requiring able-bodied recipients without dependents to work that was included in sweeping welfare-reform legislation adopted in 1996.
“The governor believes in a work requirement,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said yesterday. “But when the economy is bad and people are hurting, the waiver can be helpful. Now, fortunately, Ohio’s economy is improving.”
More than 1.8 million Ohioans receive food stamps, with the average individual benefit about $132 a month. Of them, an estimated 134,000 adults in 72 Ohio counties will be subject to the work requirements, including 15,000 in Franklin County. They are ages 18 to 50, without children under 18, and deemed to be physically and mentally able to participate, Johnson said.
County officials who administer public assistance and advocates for the poor predict the requirement will take food stamps away from thousands of Ohioans.
“The rolls will go down because of this. Some people will leave because of the requirement, and some won’t be able to meet it. It will be similar to what we saw with (welfare) rolls,” said Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association.
More than 100,000 Ohioans have lost cash assistance since the beginning of 2011 as part of the federal crackdown on work requirements.
“We don’t have nearly enough places for 15,000 people” to work, said Lance Porter, spokesman for the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services. Many of the “able-bodied” food-stamp recipients in the Columbus area have disabilities and are seeking Supplemental Social Security, an application process that can take months, even years.
“We don’t oppose the requirement, but most of these people have no other income than food stamps. Getting them transportation and other help to participate in work activities costs money,” said Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services. “We’ll have 1,000 people subject to this requirement and there is no way we will have work sites for them. Every work site we have is already filled up by people working for cash assistance.”
The announcement comes the same week as a federal report showing hunger persists in Ohio despite signs of economic improvement. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 in 6 Ohio families faced hunger last year, the 10th highest rate in the nation. And over the past decade, the percentage of families forced to skip meals or cut back on what they eat has grown 6.3 percentage points, higher than in all but two other states.
Ohio officials learned they would continue to qualify for a federal waiver of the work requirement because the recession made jobs scarce, but the Kasich administration wants to exempt only those in 16 Ohio counties where the two-year average unemployment rate was more than 120 percent of the national rate, Johnson said.