While Deep Poverty Has Increased For Ohio Children, Fewer Are Getting Cash Assistance

Cleveland (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)
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This summer marks 20 years since what’s commonly known as “welfare reform.”  The 1996 bill led to the creation of TANF, a cash assistance program aimed at helping low-income families become more self-sufficient.  The non-partisan think tank the Center for Community Solutions—CCS—is using this summer to see how things are going with that program as it relates to poverty particularly for children in Ohio. 

In a report released today (Tuesday), CCS compared the rates of deep poverty in the state with the number of people receiving cash assistance through the state’s TANF program – OWF… Ohio Works First.

Ideastream’s Tony Ganzer spoke with the author of the study Joe Ahern and CCS’s president John Corlett.

CORLETT: “You would think as the poverty rate has risen, that we would see cash assistance rise as well, because we know there are more families—more children—in need, but we saw it just the opposite.  What we saw, was as poverty had risen—the number of children living in deep poverty had risen—the number of children actually getting any cash assistance had actually dropped.  And so we decided that we wanted to look at that on a county-by-county basis in the state and see was it the same across the state, were there differences, and what those differences were.”

GANZER: “What are some of the numbers though, Joe, when we talk about poverty has risen, and cash assistance has not risen by as much?”

AHERN: “Well, there were a quarter of a million children in deep poverty.  And by deep poverty we mean 50% or less of the federal poverty level.  It works out to about $840/mo for a family of three.  We looked at the average from 2005 to 2009, so there were about a quarter million before the recession, and then almost 300,000 in the post-recession period. So the number of children receiving OWF, though, declined from 135,000 to 128,000 in 2010 to 2014, and in 2015 it actually fell below 100,000. ”

GANZER: “And how does Cuyahoga County fit into this, and Northeast Ohio, John?”

CORLETT: “Well it’s interesting, Tony, Cuyahoga County has actually the lowest ratio of any of Ohio’s urban counties, meaning there’s a lower percentage of children living in deep poverty that received assistance in Cuyahoga County as opposed to any of the other urban counties, and that was surprising to us, really.  Cuyahoga County it’s about 38%, so it means 38 out of 100 kids who are living in deep poverty are getting some sort of cash assistance from the state generally.”

GANZER: “And in the report you said there are a number of reasons that this ratio could be affected, could you lay out some of those?”

CORLETT: “That’s one of the things we’ve wondered about, why is there such wide variation across the state and even across our region.  The state provides a great deal of flexibility to local counties in how they operate their program, even though it’s a state-wide program, they have a lot of flexibility.  And so it could be counties maybe don’t provide good cause exemptions for people who maybe have hit their time limits.  They may have more severe sanction policies.  They may operate programs, diversion programs, that attempt to divert people away from getting cash assistance. Or it could be just processing cases takes longer, or whatever it is.  I think that’s one of the things we’d like to get a better understanding of, because this should really be a state-wide program and it shouldn’t matter whether you live on one side of the county line or the other whether you are able to get benefits or not.”

GANZER: “Anything else you want to add, any other takeaways Joe?”

AHERN: “It’s the history of welfare reform since the late 1990s.  After President Clinton signed the welfare reform act into law in 1996, it seemed to work well for the first few years because the economy was growing and there was a concerted effort to move people into jobs from welfare and that seemed to work.  But then after 2000, we had a slight recession, and then we had the Great Recession, and so any attempt to move people into low-skill or unskilled jobs, there just weren’t any.”

CORLETT: “I would hope that this report and others that people will do will bring renewed attention to this issue.  As Joe pointed out, welfare reform was enacted in 1996, and I think people felt like ‘okay, we’re done with that, we did that, we can move on.’I think you know our report illustrates that there’s more work to do here, there’s still families and young children that need our assistance, and I’m hoping that policy makers and others will take up that fight.”


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