COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio has a $500 million reserve available in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and a new report examines the reasons for the surplus. It also suggests ways the state can better support struggling Ohioans.
Over the past decade, said Brie Lusheck, a public-policy associate with the Center for Community Solutions, Ohioans receiving cash assistance through TANF's "Ohio Works First" program dropped nearly in half. However, nearly 20 percent of Ohio families live below the federal poverty line.
"We see deep poverty in the state declining, but those caseloads are declining much faster," Lusheck said, "so there's a huge gap of people that are in deep poverty in the state and aren't accessing TANF funds."
TANF requires recipients of cash assistance to work a set number of hours per week, and Ohio limits enrollment to three years. Lusheck said the drop in caseloads is because people likely are unable to meet program requirements or have reached the time limit. She added that just nine out of 100 families receiving Ohio Works First have income beyond cash assistance.
"For the people that are on the program, very little have any other sources of income," she said. "So, if they're kicked off the program due to sanctions, then there really isn't much cash coming into their family."
Ohio's current plan is to direct the reserve toward child-care programs. While the report acknowledges that quality child care is crucial for development, Lusheck pointed out that children also benefit when parents have supports that help them attain a family-supporting wage.
"But there's also other approaches, two-generation approaches, where programs utilize child care," she said. "But also, offering job training and GED services for those parents have shown successful."
To help TANF recipients find work, the report recommended that the state expand subsidized employment and use comprehensive case-management programs. It also suggested that the sanctions be reduced to prevent struggling families from losing needed assistance.
The report is online at communitysolutions.com.