Déjà vu All Over Again
Will OWF face the same fate as DMA?
Is Ohio setting up OWF for cuts in the next budget?
In 2003, enrollment in the state Disability Medical Assistance Program (DMA) was about 32,000 people. DMA was a state funded program that provided basic medical care for Ohioans who were disabled or dependent on prescription medications and had very low incomes, no more than $115 per month. This was also a crucial program for Ohioans because in addition to basic health care, it provided a means to obtain medical tests and documentation to support disabilities in the Aged Blind and Disabled (ABD) Medicaid application process. Through a series of funding cuts and enrollment freezes, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services shrunk the DMA program to a few thousand people in 2008 and finally eliminated it altogether in 2009 because the enrolled population could not justify the cost of administration.
In 2012, Ohio is again shrinking a crucial benefits program. Ohio Works First (OWF), Ohio’s version of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program has lost 24% of its regular adult enrollees in the 12 months between June 2011 (217,203 adults) and May 2012 (164,221). This loss of adult enrollment can be attributed to a number of factors, including: time limits; sanctions; more aggressive enforcement of work requirements; aging out of dependent children; transportation; and a wide range of perceived and real barriers at the state and county agencies. Whatever the reasons, OWF is shrinking dramatically during an economic downturn in which record numbers of people are unemployed and child poverty is growing. OWF is shrinking dramatically in the midst of a now four year recession that should be triggering record expansions in the program. (Look to the Medicaid program in Ohio that serves much the same population. In the same time period, it has grown significantly.) OWF is now, or will soon be, a program primarily for children, despite the continuing needs of their parents. The impact on families of smaller assistance groups and reduced monthly benefits will be catastrophic.
Counties have experienced cuts to their administrative funds in the last two state budgets. These funding cuts make it harder for counties to meet the state and federal requirements that they provide services to help OWF recipients become self-sufficient. Lower OWF enrollment could be used to justify further cuts to the counties which will make it ever harder to serve their low-income residents? Lower OWF enrollments could also justify cuts in other programs such as food assistance and child care? Other low-income programs could also be targeted for cuts based on lower OWF numbers. Lower OWF numbers can define away the problem of poverty in Ohio.
Unlike DMA, Ohio will not eliminate the OWF program, but it is clear that it wants to shrink it, despite the growing levels of poverty and the desperate need for assistance. A smaller OWF program will be less helpful to low-income Ohioans and not help them to get out of poverty and become self-sufficient. The state is intentionally shrinking the safety net. Every month more Ohioans are losing that protection.