Tuesday, September 14, 1999

National welfare reform hits home with new limits

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A plan for determining how bad off poor people need to be in order to continue collecting welfare after their three-year time limit expires is taking shape in Hamilton County.

        Starting in October 2000, people who have been on welfare for three consecutive years will start getting booted off, regardless of how much the money is needed.

        The time limit is part of national welfare reform, which is an effort to force people off the welfare rolls and into jobs.

        Only a selected few — no more than about 800 people, or 20 percent of the Hamilton County's 4,000 adult welfare cases — will be given a reprieve at any one time.

        Because hundreds of people will face losing their benefits every month, Department of Human Services (SDH) officials say they will have to make some difficult choices about who to cut off.

        “Three years ago, I would have said 20 percent was a reasonable figure,” said Lora Jollis, the county's welfare reform executive. “But the people now left on welfare are the toughest to place in a job. So that percentage isn't high enough.”

        Many of those people suffer from mental disabilities, substance abuse or lack of education, or have other afflictions which make getting and keeping a job difficult.

        To make choices about who to keep on the welfare rolls, DHS officials want to create a panel which would review each case individually as it reaches the time limit.

        The panel would have a set of criteria to consider to determine which hardship cases deserve exemption.

        Don Thomas, the county's director of human services, presented Hamilton County commissioners with a tentative list of circumstances which will help pick those hardship cases.

The list includes:
        • A parent or caretaker age 55 or older.

        • The person is unable to work because of serious illness.

        • A dependent who suffers from a medical condition which requires full-time care.

        • Limited education or mental capacity.

        • Domestic violence disrupts the ability to retain employment (this would be a temporary exemption).

        • A large number of dependent children makes employment or child care economically unfeasible.

        The criteria figure to be tweaked over the next year.

        For example, commissioners expressed concern that some people might be encouraged to have large numbers of children in order to avoid work, and that the education clause might encourage someone on welfare to drop out of school. “I don't want anyone to interpret that to mean: "I dropped out of school, so I don't have to work,'” Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus said.

        Mr. Thomas said other counties are far worse off than Hamilton.

        Cuyahoga County, for example, will have to kick about 10,000 people off welfare in October 2000.

        What will they do?

        “I have no idea,” Mr. Thomas said.


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