Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Greater Cleveland Foodbank present to county committee

The May 22 meeting of the Cuyahoga County Council Health, Human Services and Aging (HHSA) Committee heard a workforce development Request For Proposal (RFP) award for contracts with two agencies and two presentations from community organizations: The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and The Greater Cleveland Foodbank.

The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center

The first presentation was from Sondra Miller, President and CEO of Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (CRCC). CRCC is the largest independent rape crisis center in the country. Its mission is the complete eradication of sexual violence. Miller shared that the organization is comprised of 80 employees and hundreds of volunteers, across 16 locations. CRCC will add a seventeenth location when it opens its new office in Shaker Square. CRCC has answered more than 125,000 calls since its first phone call 45 years ago. Miller, citing Centers for Disease Control research, stated that in Ohio 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will face sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Children and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)community face additional threats from sexual violence. CRCC receives calls from every ZIP code in Cuyahoga County. Approximately 50 percent of the calls that come in are from the City of Cleveland. CRCC receives, on average, 19 calls per day.

Councilman Dale Miller asked where the line is between sexual harassment and sexual violence. Miller replied that CRCC seeks to support survivors and that the community partners they work with, including law enforcement and health professionals, are prepared to support victims whether they are victims of sexual harassment (which may also be emotional, physical or verbal) or sexual violence.

In Ohio 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will face sexual violence at some point in their lifetime

Councilwoman Shontel Brown asked about the data for racial minorities and members of the LGBT community. Miller said that she didn’t have the specific data breakdown, but that she would get those numbers. CRCC later sent information to the HHSA committee, which provided statistics, definitions and disparities in treatment of Black, Asian, Latinx, Native American and LGBT victims.

Councilwoman Cheryl Stephens noted the number of services devoted to treatment and support. She also noted the importance of prevention, and asked what CRCC does to promote prevention. Miller said that CRCC focuses on supportive services versus prevention, because of scarcity of resources. But she said that CRCC does work with middle and high school classes on various topics, including prevention, healthy masculinity and the media.

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank

The next presentation was from the Greater Cleveland FoodBank, which was represented by Kristin Warzocha, President and CEO and Tiffany Scruggs, Director of Benefits Outreach and Client Services.

Warzocha opened her testimony with data from the food bank that showed the need for emergency food services in Cuyahoga County has increased from 2009 to the present day. She also explained how food distribution points have expanded throughout the county to meet those needs. She explained how 36 percent of county residents are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), because their income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Part of the increase in the number of people eligible for SNAP is due to an increasing aging population who may have limited income. Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of people who work at low-paying jobs who still need food assistance. The food bank has responded to this need by delivering more than 44 million meals in 2018 and 25 million pounds of fresh produce. The food bank served 224,344 unduplicated individuals in Cuyahoga County in 2018. In addition to the service numbers from last year, Warzocha also highlighted new programming in senior housing, school markets and food distributions at health care facilities.

Next, the committee heard from Tiffany Scruggs, who explained the challenges the food bank faces when enrolling individuals in the SNAP program. The foodbank has 27 full-time staff member devoted to outreach who connect clients with the assistance they need.

The food bank works closely with the county to get clients signed up for the benefits enrollment system and SNAP benefits. The State of Ohio converted to a new system called Ohio Benefits earlier this year, from an older system known as CRIS-E. Since the state has moved to the new system, clients receive a letter with an 800 number to call to complete their phone interviews and determine benefit eligibility. The foodbank has heard feedback from staff and clients that the 800 number has extraordinarily long wait times, disconnects and dropped calls. The foodbank has made its concerns known to the county JFS,but county representatives say their hands are tied, as the phone system is set up and managed by the state.

36 percent of Cuyahoga County residents are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called food stamps

Chairwoman Conwell opened questions by asking if Warzocha is she could provide a breakdown of the increase in food assistance, by county council district. Warzocha said yes, and the food bank can provide that information. Unfortunately, the state system does not identify exactly which county council district an applicant is calling from. The only way that the Cleveland Food Bank has been able to ascertain this data, is by following up with each and every applicant that they have worked with to submit the SNAP application.

Miller asked for clarity on the state approval rate of SNAP applications. Scruggs said that the state application approval rate is 69.8 percent. The approval for Cleveland Food Bank applicants from Cuyahoga County is 30 percent. Warzocha said that she did not have the approval rate overall for Cuyahoga County applicants before the transition to the new system.

There are 200,000 people in Cuyahoga County who currently receive SNAP benefits.

Warzocha said in addition to requesting that the state develop an easier way for community organizations to automatically submit client data to the state system, the food bank also asks that the state turn off the feature known as “auto-disenrollment.” Auto-disenrollment occurs if a client does not submit eligibility verification documentation every six months. If they get auto-disenrolled, they have to wait six months, and then call back into the 800 number to re-enroll. If they don’t get through, they risk being disenrolled for another six months. The foodbank is recommending that the state turn off this feature until the state can fix the long wait times on the phone system.

Kevin Gowan, the new Job and Family Services administrator,stepped up to the podium to verify to Stephens that there are 200,000 people in Cuyahoga County who currently receive SNAP benefits.

Brown wanted to understand if there is any issue with individuals or families going to multiple distribution points (senior food centers, mobile pantries, etc.). Warzocha said that the foodbank believes strongly in a “no wrong door approach” and that people should be able to get food regardless of the distribution point.

Conwell reminded HHSA committee members that the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board will present on June 19. The meeting was then adjourned.