Thursday, August 30, 2007


Poverty in Ohio Remains High

Well the numbers are in and while they are better than some may have expected, they aren’t good. Every year the human services advocacy community awaits the poverty numbers with conflicted anticipation. One the one hand hoping numbers are down because more people are moving toward self-sufficiency. But at the same time knowing that higher numbers means more press coverage and hopefully more attention from policymakers. In many ways, the tone to this year’s poverty numbers could be characterized as “To be continued….” While most figures remained close to 2005 levels, other indicators, such as health insurance, are cause for alarm.

Let’s look at the big picture first. Poverty in the United States is down from 12.6% in 2005 to 12.3%, 36.5 million people, in 2006. Most of that reduction comes from seniors as poverty among children and working age adults went basically unchanged. On the whole, Ohio is doing slightly better than the national figures with 1.4 million Ohioans, or 12.2%, living in poverty. But Ohio is the only state with more than one city in the top 10 of the nation’s poorest cities, Cincinnati is 3rd and Cleveland is 4th. Median income is up nationally, but down in Ohio from $44,919 in 2005 to $44,532 last year.

With the exception of the drop in median income, one could say we are holding steady. But there are some disturbing factors inside the numbers. Specifically, where we are in relation to where we were during the last recession and the growing numbers of the uninsured.

In 2001, the last recession was at its lowest point. For the first time on record, the national poverty rate is lower in the fifth year of an economic recovery than it was during the recession. Most growth in the economy since the last recession has been concentrated among those in the top income brackets which has resulted in a very uneven recovery. Low-income and middle-income Americans have not seen the same gains over the last five years.

Most alarming in Tuesday’s census figures was the increase in the number of uninsured Americans. 2006 saw an additional 2.2 million people (47 million total) join the ranks of the uninsured, including 600,000 children (8.7 million total). This is the sixth year in a row that the number of people without health care coverage has increased; further fueling national discussions about the need to address what continues to be a growing crisis.

Ohio faired much better than the rest of the country in the number of uninsured, but still had 1.1 million Ohioans without health care coverage in 2006, 10.1 percent of the population compared to 15.8 percent nationally. State and county officials have made a yeoman’s effort at enrolling as many eligible children as possible in Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), but with available federal funds dwindling and new restrictions enacted in 2006, making sure that low-income children without health care get the coverage they need is becoming more difficult.

Recently President Bush, through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has released a series of new rules that would significantly limit the ability of all states to cover as many low-income children as possible. In Ohio these rules could have a devastating effect on the recent SCHIP expansion enacted by the Governor and the Ohio General Assembly to cover children up to 300 percent of the poverty level. Governors, legislators, and advocates have spoken out on a bipartisan basis on the dangers of enforcing the CMS restrictions.

Going forward we need to continue to shine a light on the impact of low wages, poverty, and lack of health care coverage on Ohioans, directly and indirectly. We cannot move forward as a state with one hand tied behind our backs. Resources must be dedicated to programs designed to help people lift themselves out of poverty if Ohio to succeed at catching up with the rest of the rest of the country in this most recent economic recovery. Human capital investments such as job training programs, and food and health care supports are essential to providing both the safety net and the ladder.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Head Start Reauthorization Moving?

The Head Start program has not been reauthorized since 1998, but earlier this spring and summer reauthorization legislation began to move. On May 2, 2007, the House approved H.R. 1429, “Improving Head Start Act of 2007.” On June 19, 2007, the Senate approved its version of Head Start reauthorization, “The Head Start for School Readiness Act.”

In the past the Bush administration proposed to transfer control of the program from local grantees to the state – in effect block granting the program. That proposal is no longer considered a viable option. In the most recent House debate an amendment was narrowly defeated that would have allowed Head Start providers affiliated with religious groups to hire employees based on religious preferences. Both the House and Senate versions authorize increases in spending, increase program eligibility to 130 percent of the federal poverty level, increase the set aside for Early Head Start, terminate the national reporting system (testing), and emphasize increasing staff qualifications and salaries.

According to the Federal Funds Information for States the funding levels authorized in the both the House and Senate bills are about $14 million higher for Ohio in federal fiscal year 2008 than what is currently contained in the pending appropriation bills and almost $20 million higher than what the President proposed in his 2008 budget.

The Senate appointed members of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee as Senate conferees, but the House has yet to appoint their conferees. Ohio U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown is a member of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee and as such will have a voice in the conference process. There is no scheduled date for beginning the conference committee, and the prospects for successfully moving the legislation are unclear as the 2008 elections move ever closer. The Bush administration opposes several provisions in the legislation, particularly the proposal to terminate the national reporting system.


Essential Information for HHS Advocates

If you are all interested in how the budget treated health and human services you need to read Dick Sheridan's most recent State Budgeting Matters. Part 1 deals with Medicaid and Part 2 deals the Children and Family Services division of ODJFS. Dick will be reviewing other departments through the fall. Stay tuned.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?