DAYTON — A newspaper analysis shows that tens of thousands of Ohioans left the welfare rolls this year, putting enrollment at its lowest point since the benefit for the poor was reformed in the 1990s.
But the drop doesn’t necessarily reflect an improving economy.
The Dayton Daily News analysis found that the largest single reason people left the welfare rolls is because officials are taking a harder stance on requiring people to perform work activities as required under law. That includes work, community service or job training for at least 30 hours a week.
The work requirement became an election-year issue when Republicans accused President Barack Obama of dropping the work requirements for welfare.
“The work requirement in Ohio is laid out both in federal law and in state law and those have not changed,” Ohio Department of Job and Family Services spokesman Ben Johnson told the newspaper. “The only difference is Ohio is actually doing it.”
The size of the welfare program in Ohio peaked at $47 million in June 2010, when 105,098 households received an extra $100 check with help from the federal stimulus program.
In the 12 months ending in July, the number of Ohio households receiving welfare and cash paid out dropped by 20 percent. There were 73,451 Ohio households in the program in July.
The state is under pressure to get at least half of all able-bodied adults receiving assistance into a work activity or it could face $135 million in penalties from the federal government. The state met that requirement for the first time in July.
Some worry about an eroding safety net.
“I would prefer that we increase the number of people who are in the program and working rather than meeting it by reducing the total number of recipients,” said Eugene King, director of the Ohio Poverty Law Center. “Recipients are not going off (the rolls) to high-income employment.”