Butler County sees 20 percent spike in food stamp applications due to coronavirus changes

Butler County Job and Family Services has seen a 20 percent spike in food stamp applications since Monday, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In times of crisis, the Great Recession was a prime example, the social services agency gets inundated with residents who need help. Executive Director Bill Morrison said the current disaster is different than any other. He said they are trying to keep their own employees safe, their clients safe and “continue to meet the needs of a community that’s hurting right now.”

“We have a lot of people that work in the restaurant industry, the bar industry, other industries that were brought to a screeching halt,” Morrison said. “Many of those people are not people who normally turn to Jobs and Family Services for assistance… If a smiling face directing you how to apply for unemployment and, yes we can help you with food stamps, brings some comfort to those people that’s why we’re here.”

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JFS does not have any direct involvement with unemployment, that is a state function, but the agency has established a makeshift lobby in the first floor of the Government Services Center where they have set up a table with instructions for people to apply for unemployment. He said filing online is working best right now because the state tells them the phone lines are jammed. The website is: unemployment.ohio.gov.

Last week 3,895 unemployment claims were filed with the state, as of Thursday the figure was 111,055. Gov. Mike DeWine issued an executive order that loosened unemployment guidelines.

“Unemployment benefits will be available for eligible individuals who are requested by a medical professional, local health authority, or employer to be isolated or quarantined as a consequence of COVID-19, even if they are not actually diagnosed with COVID-19,” a Q&A of the state’s JFS website reads. “In addition, the waiting period for eligible Ohioans to receive unemployment benefits will be waived.”

Medicaid is another service JFS assists with, Morrison hasn’t seen a hike in that area yet, but expects there will be as the crisis continues to mount.

Keeping his own staff of 325 people safe in the new world of social distancing has also been a challenge. The computer systems for public assistance and Children Services are owned by and linked to the state.

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Midweek Morrison said they got a message from the state giving permission for the JFS workers to take their PCs home to work. He said they are working with the IT departments in the county and state to figure out how that will work. He said they surveyed employees to make sure they have the technical capability but also a way to protect their clients’ privacy.

“Do you have a space in your home where you can work privately,” he said. “There’s a lot of confidential information we work with everyday so it can’t be exposed to people’s spouses and stuff like that. They have to have some things in place to have the capacity to do that.”

About 80 Children Services workers who usually work in the field visiting families are working remotely because they are already equipped with mobile technology that is connected to the state. There are 142 Children Services employees.

Ohio Means Jobs and Child Support Enforcement are also Morrison’s responsibility. He said the employment office isn’t hosting any job fairs right now so most of them can work from home. Child Support Enforcement workers use a separate state computer system that requires a token to get remote access and those are scarce right now.

County Administrator Judi Boyko said they are working on the plan to allow as many other county employees as possible to work from home. There are 1,731 full-time and 302 part-time employees countywide.

“We are identifying and will probably launch on Monday those positions that have the ability to work remotely,” she said. “The department directors determine the need for that position to be able to work remotely. We have been able to identify about 40 percent of the workforce throughout the organization.”

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