Ohio welfare reform is on its way! On July 2, 1997, Governor Voinovich signed Substitute House Bill 408 (HB408) which became the starting point for welfare reform in the State of Ohio. Under this new law, individual Ohio counties will be responsible for developing their own programs for the distribution of certain welfare benefits. This approach requires individual counties to develop programs which serve the truly needy but reduce the number of welfare clients in a way that is fair and equitable.
While the changes required by HB408 are far-reaching, some public assistance programs will not change. The rules governing eligibility and payment of benefits for certain federal programs will not be affected. Those programs include:
However, the federal government has created a new classification of welfare benefits known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Under HB408, local welfare departments will distribute those benefits through two programs: Ohio Works First (OWF) and Prevention, Retention and Contingency (PRC).
OWF is the beginning of a fundamental change in the welfare system; it was created in the spirit of President Clinton's promise to "end welfare as we know it." Welfare will no longer be considered an entitlement. Through OWF, benefits will be available to family units, now known as "assistance groups," only for limited periods of time, and only to assistance groups who participate in programs designed to remove them from the welfare rolls. The rules for OWF require:
In Wayne County, the Department of Human Services, formerly known as the Welfare Department, has entered into a contract with the Wayne County Career Center for the education and training of welfare clients. This investment in education and training will eventually benefit taxpayers by supplying welfare clients with the skills necessary to find a job.
The real key to the OWF program is performance standards. Ohio law will now follow federal standards which create incentives and sanctions designed to reduce welfare rolls. Within two years, the number of welfare clients must be reduced by thirty-five percent. Local welfare departments which meet that standard will be eligible for additional funding. Those who do not meet that standard will experience cuts in their funding.
The other program for the distribution of TANF benefits is PRC, which essentially replaces the program known as Emergency Assistance. PRC allows local welfare departments to be flexible in creating programs for reducing the number of welfare clients. Case workers will become "case managers" who will identify the specific needs of a family and determine what specific need must be met to keep the family off the welfare rolls. The whole network of community resources will be explored to provide for the family's needs without creating a reliance on welfare benefits.
Within the next few weeks, the Wayne County Commissioners will appoint the members of a planning committee dedicated to putting these welfare reforms into action. Hopefully, this committee will lay the foundation for a public assistance program that provides jobs and self-reliance to the needy families of Wayne County.