Thursday, May 17, 2007


Erosion of the Food Stamp Benefit Must Stop

The food stamp benefits received by over one million Ohio families are eroding in real value with each passing year, making it harder for struggling families to afford an adequate diet, according to a report released by The Center for Community Solutions, in conjunction with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (Washington, D.C.). Advocates are calling on Congress to stop the erosion in the value of food stamps as it crafts this year’s Farm Bill, which will renew the Food Stamp Program.

“Every month we serve people here whose food stamps ran out before the end of the month,” said David Riggs, coordinator of the Newport Community Food Pantry in Newport, Ohio. “Food stamps are a crucial support for many Ohioans, but each recipient now gets only about $1.10 per meal. That’s just not enough to help families put food on the table every day.”

Congressman Tim Ryan (17th District) has taken up the challenge of living on a food stamp budget for one week. “I wasn't able to get much protein and produce was almost completely out of the question,” Ryan wrote. “I already notice a difference in my energy level. After only a day on this diet, I’m tired and hungry…” Ryan is documenting his experience on his blog.

577,000 households in Ohio cannot always afford adequate food, a condition the government calls “food insecurity.” Many of these households receive food stamps but still aren’t able to afford sufficient food because their food stamp benefits don’t stretch through the month.

Every year the value of the food stamp benefit decreases because of budget cuts Congress made in the program in 1996. The impact of the cuts is growing every year. Next year, a typical working parent with two children will lose about $350 in food stamp benefits as a result of the cuts.

In all, Ohio residents will lose $66 million in food stamp benefits next year as a result of the cuts, according to the new report, The Value of Food Stamp Benefits in Ohio - and Across the Country -Is Shrinking.

“In recent years the reductions in food stamps have placed an added burden to food pantries,” said Anne Goodman, executive director of the Cleveland Foodbank. “We don't have the resources to make up for the lost food stamp benefits resulting in increased food pantry use. It is a significant drain on pantries that were originally designed to deal with emergencies not sustained long-term provision of food."

An inadequate diet can do a great deal of harm to a child’s health and development. “Research studies have shown that an inadequate diet can affect many aspects of a child’s life, from their health to their ability to succeed at work and in school,” said Jean Therrien, RN, MS, executive director of Neighborhood Family Practice in Cleveland.

In addition to improving the health and quality of life of recipients, the report notes, food stamps boost local economies by increasing total food purchases. Thus, the steady decline in food stamp values is hurting Ohio’s economy. If food stamps continue to shrink, Ohio will lose $121.44 million in economic activity in FY2008.

By improving food stamp benefits Congress can help protect needy households in Ohio and other states from going hungry while also improving local economies. At a minimum, the report concludes, Congress should stop the problem from getting worse.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


War Debate Snags Children’s Health Care and More

Lost in the debate over the Iraq war supplemental is the fact that the $124 billion legislation doesn’t just contain support for the war effort in Iraq but also much needed funds for programs essential to low-income families. Assistance with home energy bills, health insurance for children, and presidential approval of the increase in the federal minimum wage are among the items included in the supplemental.

The bill includes $400 million for LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) to help low-income families and seniors with heating and cooling costs. Ohio would get approximately $10 million for its energy programs. Despite the steady rise of energy costs, in recent years Congress made cuts to this vital program that often means the difference between paying energy bills or buying groceries. The $400 million restores some of that lost funding.

Fourteen states are currently facing a shortfall in funding their SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) plans. The war supplemental includes $750 million for SCHIP to help those states make up those shortfalls so states can provide uninterrupted health care to children while Congress moves forward with reauthorizing the program which expires at the end of this year. Without this funding, hundreds of thousands of low-income children could lose their health care.

Final passage of the minimum wage increase that Congress approved earlier this year is also in the war supplemental. Both the House and Senate attached their minimum wage bills to the war supplemental when they couldn’t come to agreement and then negotiated a package when the supplemental went into conference that included a gradual increase to $7.25 an hour over three years and tax breaks for small businesses.

President Bush vetoed the supplemental largely on the grounds that he opposed setting specific dates for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but he also expressed opposition to including the additional funding for domestic programs such as LIHEAP and SCHIP as well others including support for health care for active duty military and veterans. As Congress and the White House work out their differences on the war, these other problems remain unaddressed and it is not clear if they will make their way into the next supplemental agreement.


Rep. Boyd Proposes to Reestablish Welfare Oversight Council

State Representative Barbara Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights) introduced Ohio House Bill 201 on May 3, 2007. The legislation, co-sponsored by Representatives Skindell, Williams S., and Miller, would reestablish the Welfare Oversight Council. According to the legislation the council would advise the Ohio General Assembly on the performance of the Department of Job and Family Services, county departments of job and family services, child support enforcement agencies, and public children services agencies. The council could also submit recommendations to the general assembly for any changes in law that the council considered necessary or appropriate.

The original Welfare Oversight Council was created in response to welfare reform and its members traveled around the state learning about how welfare reform was being implemented at the local level. State Representative Boyd was one of the original members. In a report that I wrote for the Brookings Institution last year I observed that the Welfare Oversight Committee was regarded warily by some at ODJFS and some local departments of Job and Family Services were even less enthused, and over time it met less and less. When original legislative members like former Rep. Bob Netzley and Representative Boyd left the legislature because of term limits the committee gradually lost steam and its charge was eventually repealed by the legislature in 2003.

Monday, May 07, 2007


The TANF Earmark Train

All the Ohio House Human Services Subcommittee talk of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) budget sustainability didn’t stop the Ohio House of Representatives from adding new TANF spending earmarks to H.B. 119.

It brings back memories of the state fiscal year 2002-2003 budget when the state fiscal crisis was hitting and TANF represented one of the only games in town for earmark seekers. At the time Governor Bob Taft put out the word that he the administration wouldn’t accept TANF earmarks and would veto them (he did veto earmarks for a TANF housing program, the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, the Ohio Association of Boys and Girls Clubs, funding for child welfare activities, and for abstinence only programs – only to agree to sign a budget corrections bill shortly thereafter that restored the earmarks). Of course that was the year that the Governor and legislature orchestrated the biggest TANF raid ever when they used TANF funds to supplant $175 million of state general revenue funds that had previously been used to fund state Head Start programs and then moved $60 million from the TANF Title XX account into the general revenue fund for the “purpose of balancing the general revenue fund.”

So who are newest winners in the TANF earmark chase? Well the Children’s Hunger Alliance saw the size of their earmark double from the last budget and the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbank got a TANF earmark as well. New earmark winners were the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development, Providence House, American Red Cross/Berea Children’s Home and Family Services, and the Center for Families and Children – Rap Art Center. Project GRAD which had an earmark of $185,000 a year in the current budget wasn't in either the governor or house version of the 2008-2009 budget.

The Governor’s budget included some of these earmarks plus it earmarked funds for things like the Governor’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives, and the Closing the Achievement Gap program.

Of course there was one group that got left behind in the rush to earmark the TANF block grant; the Ohio House turned back efforts by some legislators (Rep. Jimmy Stewart) and advocates to provide a cost of living increase to families and children receiving the monthly cash assistance grant beginning on July 1, 2007. At this point TANF recipients will have to wait until January1, 2009 for their grant increase.


Child and Family Health Services Line Earmarks Grow By 89%

When the Ohio House of Representatives passed H.B. 119 last week they had earmarked a record $7.5 million in 2008 and $7.6 million in 2009 of the Child and Family Health Services line Item 440-416. The earmarks represent three quarters of the total amount budgeted for the line item and if all the earmarks make out of the legislature and avoid the governor’s veto pen there will be less than half as much money to pay for the services this line item has provided in years past.

According to the Ohio Department of Health the goal of the CFHS grant program is to eliminate health disparities, improve birth outcomes and improve the health status of women, infants and children in Ohio. Services are provided through grant awards to local agencies in 79 counties. While the majority of these agencies are local health districts, CFHS also provides services through community action agencies, federally qualified health centers, hospitals, a college of medicine, a Family and Children First Council, an MRDD board and a Planned Parenthood. The population of interest for CFHS is low-income women and children in racial and ethnic groups that are disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes. The focus is on geographic areas and populations of highest need. The OIMRI component is specifically focused on those populations at the greatest risk of poor birth outcomes.

So my question is if the available dollars are cut in half (after all the earmarks are paid) what is going to left to provide the services described above?


Ohio House Budget - Chapter 2

Once again Dick Sheridan uncovers or brings to light items in the House passed version of the budget that no one else has focused on. You can read all about it in this weeks edition of State Budgeting Matters. It's the second part of an article that he began last week. Most interesting to me was his description of the series of provisons that the House added that limit the power of the Office of Budget and Management. Check it out, I am sure you will find it interesting.

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