Governor John Kasich’s administration announced this week that beginning next month, able-bodied adults in all but sixteen economically depressed areas will be required to work or participate in job training or volunteer work as a condition of receiving food stamps. The Dispatch reported:
To qualify for benefits, able-bodied adults without children will be required to spend at least 20 hours a week working, training for a job, volunteering or performing a similar type of activity unless they live in one of 16 counties exempt because of high unemployment. The requirements begin next month; however, those failing to meet them would not lose benefits until Jan. 1.
The work requirement is actually a federal regulation, part of the 1996 welfare-reform legislation that Kasich helped pass as chairman of the House Budget Committee when he was in Congress. For years Ohio has taken advantage of a federal waiver exempting food stamp recipients from the work requirements. Though Ohio still qualifies for the federal waiver, the Kasich administration decided to only extend it to those counties whose two-year average unemployment rate was more than 120 percent of the national rate
“The governor believes in a work requirement,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols told The Dispatch. “But when the economy is bad and people are hurting, the waiver can be helpful. Now, fortunately, Ohio’s economy is improving.”
According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 1.8 million individuals received Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in the month of June with an average benefit of $137. The state spent $245 million on the program in June, a decrease of 2.1 percent from the same time last year.
“It’s important that we provide more than just a monetary benefit, that we provide job training, an additional level of support that helps put (food-stamp recipients) on a path toward a career and out of poverty,” said Ben Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Johnson estimates that 134,000 adults in 72 Ohio counties will be subject to the new work requirement. They range in age from 18-50, without dependent children in the home and deemed physically and mentally able to work.
Critics say that many will lose their food benefits because jobs are not available or because participants lack transportation.
“The rolls will go down because of this. Some people will leave because of the requirement, and some won’t be able to meet it. It will be similar to what we saw with (welfare) rolls,” said Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association, referring to the 2011 federal work requirement for cash assistance. More than 100,000 have left the welfare rolls since the onset of the new requirement. The number of Ohioans dependent on the Ohio Works First (cash assistance) program is down 15% this past year alone.