Thursday, October 05, 2000

Fox: Keep welfare money in Ohio


He would put surplus into tech training

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — Butler County Commissioner Mike Fox wants Ohio to spend some of its surplus federal funding on statewide programs designed to improve the reading and computer skills of low-income families.

        Mr. Fox urged the Ohio General Assembly's Welfare Oversight Council to support the release of surplus money from the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) fund — and not return it to the federal government. The council was holding a special meeting Wednesday in Middletown.

        Ohio's TANF fund has a $733.9 million surplus — more than four times the amount in each of its neighboring states, according to an internal report from Ohio Department of Job and Fami ly Services obtained by the Enquirer.

        The money is used for a variety of services to help people move from welfare to work, ranging from cash assistance to job skills training.

        The deadline for spending it is Oct. 1, 2001.

        “It would be an absolute moral disgrace for us to ship this money back to Washington,” said Mr. Fox, a former state representative. “If we send it back to Washington, it's gone and they'll waste it. We can invest it better here.”

        Mr. Fox has worked with Tri-Rivers Educational Com puter Association in Marion, Ohio, a consortium serving five counties, to develop two statewide education programs.

        Under these programs, counties would work with schools to establish learning centers to enhance reading and computer technology skills of students from elementary school through high school, and to provide computers for the homes of low-income people.

        Adults also would receive technology training.

        Price tag: $80 million.

        State Rep. Gary Cates, R-West Chester, has worked with Mr. Fox on this project and hopes to convince next year's General Assembly of its merits.

        “It's a way of helping students be academically successful and preventing people from falling back on the welfare rolls,” said Mr. Cates, a member of the Welfare Oversight Committee.

        He said the programs would be ideal for closing the digital divide between low-income and wealthier families.

        “The beauty of it is that it requires no tax increases and doesn't take funds from existing programs,” he said.

        State Rep. Robert Netzley, chairman of the Welfare Oversight Committee, and Jack Potts, assistant to the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, praised Mr. Fox's proposal.

        “This is an extraordinary opportunity,” said Mr. Potts, a nonvoting committee member.

        The Middletown Opportunity Center, where people receive counseling and training to help them move off welfare, is one of about 16 sites around Ohio the committee is visiting to learn how counties are reducing their welfare rolls.

        Mr. Netzley said he was impressed with Butler County's innovative programs to help people make the transition from welfare to work.

        Butler County has reduced its number of welfare recipients from 14,000 in 1994 to 752 today.

        “Butler County is doing a great job,” Mr. Netzley said. “People in the community are working together and helping each other. We haven't seen a lot of that in other counties.”

       



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