December 21, 2014

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Lorain state representative questions new food stamp rule

Dan Ramos

Dan Ramos

A new state rule eliminating food stamps for able-bodied people not working 20 hours per week or in job training 20 hours per week, is punitive, according to state Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain.

Ramos said the requirement, which takes effect Jan. 1. in 72 Ohio counties including Lorain County, penalizes unemployed people. Ramos said many jobless people lack computers or cars to apply for jobs, meaning finding work can be a full-time occupation.

“They should be concentrating their time on finding the next job, not worrying about specific program requirements that some Columbus bureaucrat needs,” Ramos said Monday. “Instead, they’re going to have to find transportation and find a way to (meet) some other requirement.”

Federal law requires all able-bodied and mentally fit adults between 18 and 50 who don’t have children under 18 and aren’t pregnant to receive food stamps for only three months in a three-year period unless they are working 20 hours per week or are in job training for 20 hours per week. In 2008, during the recession, a federal waiver of the law was approved statewide.

On Sept. 6, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services announced the waiver would only apply in 16 counties. Those counties have had a two-year average of 120 percent or more than the average national unemployment rate, according to department spokesman Benjamin Johnson.

The change will affect about 134,000 of the 1.8 million Ohioans receiving food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It will affect about 3,600 county residents.

In a Thursday letter to Republican Gov. John Kasich, Ramos and state Rep. Michael Ashford, D-Toledo, wrote that some county Job and Family Services offices have said they will be unable to place all their required clients in job training or temporary work. However, Johnson said there is federal taxpayer and state taxpayer money for counties to help clients meet the requirement. He said training helps people find work.

“It’s certainly not our intent to reduce the (food stamp) caseload,” Johnson said. “It is our intent to provide more than just a monetary benefit.”

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the waiver was never meant to be permanent and was reserved for hard times.

“Things are getting better now,” he said. “People are going back to work, and the governor believes in the work requirement.”

Ramos disagreed. Some 9 million jobs have been lost nationally since the recession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a record 46 million people were receiving food stamps last year, according to the USDA. The Lorain County unemployment rate in August was 7.4 percent, compared with the 7.3 percent overall in Ohio. The unemployment rate was about 6 percent before the recession.

Ohio ranks 44th in job creation nationally, according to Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business. One of six Ohioans faces “food insecurity,” meaning they are unsure if they will be able to feed themselves or their families, according to the USDA.

“The most basic of human needs is not being met,” Ramos said. “I don’t think it’s time to be picking and choosing who deserves to eat.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.