In just six days the first in a wave of Ohio's poor will lose their welfare benefits. Reforms enacted in 1997 limit welfare recipients to three years of cash benefits, after which they must find some other means of financial support. Those three years are up October 1st for people who have continually received monthly checks since the law took effect. Some still have no way to replace that lost income. In the first of two reports, 90.3's Bill Rice looks at what the government has in mind for those who still aren't ready for the end of welfare as we know it.
Bill Rice- By some accounts, Ohio's welfare reforms have been largely successful - many have left the welfare roles and entered the labor force before exhausting their benefits. But many recipients who havn't made the welfare to work transition won't get a check in October. About 44% of those - roughly 2,000 - are in Cuyahoga County. More will lose their benefits in the following months. Jocelyn Travis of the Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland says the three year time limit is too short. She supports passage of a bill in the Ohio General Assembly that would extend welfare benefits another two years.
Jocelyn Travis- We know that people have so many barriers that prevent them from making a decent wage - barriers such as education, lack of training, lack of work experience, felonies, misdemeanors, mental illness type issues. I don't understand why our county and our state won't follow what's going on nationally and just extend it to five years.
BR- Travis concedes the bill stands little chance of passage. Republican lawmakers, who control both chambers of the General Assembly say they're standing firm on the three-year deadline. GOP Senator Gene Watts.
Gene Watts- It's getting away from the old plantation philosophy that certain people ought to be on the dole for the rest of their lives with no effort to find work, no effort to bring themselves to better pay.
BR- While the law permits counties the leeway to grant exemptions to hardship cases, Cuyahoga County officials say they also are standing firm on the time limit. For those who are still jobless they've have put in place a program to provide immediate work. Betty Meier is with the county Health and Human Services Department.
Betty Meier- We call it Transitional Jobs. If they haven't either realized that they're going to have to work or haven't been able to find a job on their own we will have opportunities for anyone to get them started in the employment market.
BR- These transitional jobs are either with community agencies or private sector companies such as dry cleaners and fast food restaurants. Wages are paid by the county, and workers can keep them for only three months.
BM- We hope these transitional jobs will lead to employment for them. If that particular job doesn't, they will at least have gotten into the job market and will have gotten some experience they can use to go on to another job and we will have people who in most cases will be working with them to help them find something that's the next step for them.
BR- Meier says for those who absolutely can't work - either because of their own or a family member's disability or because they're caring for a newborn - there is cash assistance. However, this too is only a temporary, short-term solution.
Researchers tracking the successes and failures of those leaving the welfare roles say these next few months will be the most challenging to date. Claudia Coulton is a professor at Case Western Reserve University's Mandel School of Urban Poverty and Social Changes. Coulton says while the number of welfare recipients who have found jobs is impressive, in many cases those jobs fail to provide sufficient income to lift families out of poverty. She says the picture is somewhat bleaker for those being forced into self-sufficiency by the 3-year time limit.
Claudia Coulton- I expect the people who are cut off, as opposed to those that have been leaving voluntarily, will be slightly worse off. Some of them will be employed, but they will see greater problems of steady employment and low earnings than we've seen in families to date.
BR- Still, the county insists it's on the right track with its no exemptions policy. Again, Health and Human Services' Betty Meier.
BM- The county comissioners have been clear - we want to use the resources we can muster to use this opportunity to help families establish the foundation they need in their lives to be able to support their children with a level of income that gives them the chance of moving out of poverty and preparing a strong and positive and bright future for the children. Maintaining someone on welfare guarantees that those children will be raised in poverty with all of the associated ills that come along with that.
BR- Meier points out that while cash payments for welfare recipients may be drying up, all the other supports for low income families are not. She says those include, among other things, food stamps, child care subsidies, health care for children, and on-going job skills training. Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.