Dear County Executive: our public benefits recipients need strong advocates. Will you be one?

Dear Cuyahoga County Executive 2022

By Tiffany Scruggs

Dear County Executive,

I have had the privilege of serving individuals in Cuyahoga County for 20 years! I have seen first-hand the critical health support offered to Medicaid recipients. While the program was created to support income-eligible residents, the process to successfully receive and maintain these critical supports presents its challenges. At the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, we engage 50,000 + individuals over-the- phone or in person to widen access and awareness to available food resources and help individuals apply and retain public benefits, including Medicaid and SNAP (also known as food stamps). Our organization operates the largest call center in Ohio, in comparison to other Food Banks and serves as “application assisters.”

The Ohio Department of Medicaid explicitly describes the role of these benefits to: Ensuring eligible Ohioans have continuous access to quality health care as the nation continues to manage through the COVID-19 pandemic; Completing the final phases of Ohio’s Next Generation managed care overhaul to bring greater transparency, improved health outcomes and person-centered care; Maintaining disciplined fiscal oversight of the program and restraining spending to levels below national measures; Continuously improving the quality and effectiveness of health care services while encouraging independence for millions of Ohioans.

Individuals are burdened by complicated notices and limited in-person access.

When taking a closer look at what our neighbors and recipients of these benefits experience, the application process and challenges to maintain the benefits need further review. We commend Cuyahoga County Jobs and Family Services, a Health and Human Services entity, for its dedication to oversee the administration process for these benefits. Due to staffing challenges and the end of the public health emergency, current and future Medicaid recipients are up against a system whose structure is unable to meet the need. In addition to long hold times to speak to a representative, individuals are burdened by complicated notices and limited in-person access. For individuals that are empowered to apply on their own through Ohio Benefits, the state’s public benefits online platform, our organization has discovered challenges that could ultimately delay important communications to complete application and verification processes. This ultimately hinders an individual’s ability to receive and maintain vital benefits. Our team will continue to serve as advocates and collect the experiences of recipients to draw attention to overall system challenges.

Not all Medicaid recipients have advocates to help navigate through this difficult process.

As an ally in the anti-hunger relief space, we have activated our Food As Medicine Initiative which demonstrates that widening access and providing nutrition education services will help decrease many health-related disorders that directly correlate to unhealthy diet. Yet, when we compare available dollars to support SNAP in comparison to Medicaid, there is a vast difference in how these two programs are funded and administered to those in need. I recently had the opportunity to offer support to a senior who needed help to interpret a Medicaid notice of over 10 pages. Due to the end of the public health emergency, all Medicaid recipients should expect to receive notices to verify their household information. I must say, I had to reach out to leadership from Cuyahoga Jobs and Family Services to obtain clarity. Not all Medicaid recipients have advocates to help navigate through this difficult process. Early estimates expect that nearly 50,000 Medicaid recipients will be wrongfully terminated from these benefits, without their knowledge.

Many households with limited income are forced to make difficult choices, during a time when inflation has caused sharp increases to gas, housing, food, and utility costs. Our team would love to discuss this further and welcome you as our next Cuyahoga County Executive.

Tiffany Scruggs, Vice President of Client Services