Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Social services slashed in Butler

Ohio won't send expected $2.5M

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — An unexpected $2.5 million shortage in state money will cause Butler County to stop funding 27 social service programs next week.

        The programs offer a broad range of services, many affecting people trying to make the transition from welfare to self-sufficiency.

        The county commissioners Thursday are to approve$2.1 million in cutbacks to Butler's social service contracts with agencies and schools. County officials will take the remaining $400,000 from other, undetermined funds.

        The commissioners angrily accused the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services of breaking its promise to allocate Butler $2.5 million in supplemental funding for programs to benefit low-income people. The money was supposed to come from $300 million in uncommitted department reserve funds.

        “It breaks my heart to have to cut these things when you know the money is there,” Commissioner Mike Fox said.

        All 27 contracts would have expired on June 30, the end of the state's current fiscal year. Because of anticipated cutbacks in state funding for the next fiscal year, fewer than half of those contracts would have been renewed, said Bruce Jewett, director of Butler County Department of Job and Family Services.

        But eliminating the contracts three months early has a big impact on many low-income people, he said.

        “For many of the agencies, it will mean personnel layoffs,” Mr. Jewett said. “For others, it will mean curtailing programs.”

        The biggest contract cutback will be $500,000, from the Family Assessment and Support Team, a five-agency consortium helping people who are eligible for welfare stay off the welfare rolls.

        FAST has worked with more than 700 families, with only two going on welfare, said Jeffrey Diver, executive director of Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families, Butler County's nonprofit community action agency. SELF is the fiscal agent and case manager for the program.

        Mr. Diver said he's disappointed that FAST and the other 26 programs on the county's cutback list will end three months prematurely.

        “I'm saddened for the low-income people who are being affected in a positive way by these programs,” he said.

        The commissioners said that Jacqueline Romer-Sensky, who resigned this month because of pervasive problems with the state's child support payment system, had promised the $2.5 million to Butler County.

        JoAnn Davidson, who succeeded her as interim director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said her staff disputes whether funding promises were made. She said it would be fiscally irresponsible for her to release reserve fund money to Butler or any other county.


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