Nearly two decades after leading efforts in Congress to tie public assistance to work, Gov. John Kasich is again pushing for sweeping changes to the welfare system.
“We’re taking the next step in welfare reform and making sure it’s not just a series of rules and hoops and requirements, but something that is going to be effective in giving people a chance at prosperity and a job,” Kasich said yesterday after announcing his plan at a news conference in Newark.
In Congress, Kasich helped craft the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which put five-year limits on cash assistance and required work for benefits.
“It was good what we did. We see less generational dependency. But the mechanics of making it work in the real world must be done in the states, and not only in the states, it has to be done where people are at the county level, at the local level,” Kasich said.
The governor is not backing away from time limits and work requirements. What he envisions is more coordinated and personalized approach for helping impoverished families get the assistance they need to find a job and back on their feet.
On Tuesday, Kasich named Douglas E. Lumpkin, a former Franklin County and Ohio job and family services director, to head the new Office of Human Services Innovation.
Also Tuesday, the governor called on U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township, to correct an omission in the welfare-reform bill. Congress, Kasich said, failed to include working toward a high-school-equivalency diploma as an activity meeting requirements for work.
“Getting a GED is a good thing and should qualify you to keep your benefits while you are looking for work,” Kasich said.
Tiberi spokeswoman Breann Gonzalez confirmed that, “Congressman Tiberi is currently drafting legislation that would add working to obtain a GED as part of the welfare-to-work requirements."
For the most part, Kasich said, there are ample federal, state and local programs to aid low-income families, yet more than 16 percent of Ohioans live in poverty. The new Office of Human Services Innovation will focus on helping people find a way out.
“We are all in this world together. The idea that someone is dependent? Forget about it. We’re not going to be thinking about other human beings in that way.”
Advocates for the poor support the renewed effort to combat poverty. Ohio’s recent expansion of Medicaid ensures the poor have access to health care, allowing more focus on education and training, they say.
“He’s talking about completing the job of welfare reform,” said Phil Cole, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies.
“We hope we have systems for human services, reactive to the needs of the people they serve, removing barriers and getting them into the workforce or getting them the help that they need.”
Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association, said better case management is key.
County agencies currently run 100 programs, including workforce development and child welfare, with more than 50 funding streams. Better coordinating those efforts will allow for better case management and individualized attention, he said.
“We are definitely at a point where we should do some course correction on welfare reform. If we don’t do something we’ll keep spinning our wheels.”
By Catherine Candisky - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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