While Ohio’s economy has certainly been on the upswing since the end of the Great Recession, many Ohioans are still struggling to provide even the most basic necessities for their families like personal hygiene items, clothes, cleaning products and diapers. For very low-income families, Ohio Works First (OWF), Ohio’s cash assistance program under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, is a vital support. For some people it’s the only resource that is available to purchase these basic items. Community Solutions recently released County Fact Sheets, and one for the state of Ohio, that show declining caseloads in OWF.
This might paint the picture of an improving economy where fewer and fewer people need cash assistance because they’re finding jobs and earning higher wages. In reality, the declining caseload is a result of people leaving the program because they have met the time limit (36 months in Ohio) or have not met all of the requirements of the program, such as the work requirement. Meeting this work requirement is increasingly hard to do, as robust work support programs are not available across the state. Ohio no longer collects any data after people leave the program, so there is no way to know how many people are moving into successful employment, although this is often the way work requirement supporters interpret the declining caseloads. Ohio Works First could help struggling Ohioans provide the most basic necessities for their families, but fewer people are receiving it. Why? Click To Tweet
A family of three has to make less than $10,390 a year to qualify for cash assistance.
According to data from the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016, only about 9 percent of families receiving OWF had income beyond cash assistance. A family of three has to make less than $10,390 a year to qualify for cash assistance. Declining caseloads in Ohio, and nationally, mean that fewer and fewer families can purchase diapers or feminine hygiene products – very basic, necessary items – because they no longer have access to support offered by OWF.
Families with young children often struggle to find the resources to purchase sufficient diapers. As a result, food pantries and other organizations are responding by collecting diapers along with food and other donated items.
In researching Community Solutions’ upcoming report looking more in-depth at the TANF program in Ohio, I heard stories about how policy decisions in OWF affect real people. While most kids have little interest in socks and underwear as gifts, I heard stories from advocates and teachers that children in families with little to no cash income specifically request these items. Families with young children often struggle to find the resources to purchase sufficient diapers. As a result, food pantries and other organizations are responding by collecting diapers along with food and other donated items. It’s hard to imagine not being able to provide these basic necessities for your family and it’s important to remember that this can be one of the real, human results of a declining trend line in a safety net program with a wonky name.
Read more about the TANF program in Ohio and what’s been occurring in OWF in Community Solutions’ upcoming issue brief, scheduled for release later this month.