Operators of Butler County public assistance programs say a bill introduced by a local lawmaker meant to streamline some welfare programs has positive points, but the issue is an extremely complex one.
U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, said his People Centered Assistance Reform Effort Act, or People CARE Act, would create a bipartisan commission “that would empower case workers to treat each person holistically.” The goal is to improve processes to help a permanent escape from poverty, he said.
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Some local officials said there are parts of the bill targeting issues that don’t exist.
“I’m not too sure things are that broken,” said Tina Osso, Shared Harvest Food Bank executive director.
“While it’s excellent to take a holistic view of all the barriers people encounter who are living in poverty, there are already many partnerships available in the local communities that … address these barriers,” Osso said.
The United States’ poverty rate in 2017 was estimated to be 12.3 percent, or about 39.7 million, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census. Ohio’s poverty rate is estimated to be 14 percent (1.6 million), and Butler County’s poverty rate is estimated to be 10.7 percent (40,700), according to U.S. Census July 2018 estimates.
The People CARE Act calls to structure these “means-tested welfare programs” to streamline their operations, as well as create a commission charged with removing “benefit cliffs,” the level at which assistance program benefits are cut off because the recipient has reached a certain pay level in the workforce. Local officials praised that piece of the plan.
Butler County Job and Family Service Executive Director Bill Morrison said he “could not possibly agree more” with the theory behind the proposed bill, and his department has worked to serve clients rather than to impersonally process papers.
“The process was designed to only qualify people, to be a paper-pushing process,” he said. “You can’t influence people without a relationship.”
Morrison said his department changed policies, which now include working with other departments and organizations such as Butler County Children’s Services and OhioMeansJobs of Butler County.
Helping clients through all parts of the process of escaping poverty takes more funding, which is a challenge, Morrison said.
There are 85,000 Medicaid recipients, 33,000 food stamps recipients and 24,000 cash assistance recipients in Butler County, he said.
Osso said it appears Davidson’s bill is trying to shoehorn a “one size fits all” strategy into the complex issue of poverty, which is not how the system works best.
“What works here in Fairfield isn’t going to work in San Francisco. What works in Los Angeles isn’t going to work in the Appalachian mountains,” she said.
“The best thing that Washington can do is to see that the solutions starts at home and support the many innovative programs and projects that state local governments and charities, non-profits, are developing and have developed. .”
Morrison agrees the benefit cliffs need to be replaced with graduated steps “where the benefits gradually diminish as your income increases, then you won’t have a situation where people are harmed for doing exactly what we want them to do.
“If somebody gets a 50-cent an hour raise, and as a result they lose Medicaid, and they don’t have health insurance through their employer, that raise just hurt them.”