Work rules for food aid tighten in October

State’s decision will require thousands of able-bodied adults to meet work requirements for food assistance

A decision by the Kasich administration means more than 134,000 childless adults in Ohio and more than 16,000 in the Dayton region will have to start meeting federal work requirements next month to get food assistance.

Federal law requires “able-bodied” adults without children to meet a 20-hour-a-week requirement for work, job training or job-related education to be eligible for food assistance. The work requirement was waived for all states in 2009 because of high unemployment resulting from the recession.

Ohio could have applied for another extension, but decided to forego that option for most of the state. Sixteen counties with high unemployment, mostly in southeastern Ohio, will continue to have the work requirement waived for able-bodied adults.

Local officials say the requirement — which has the same Oct. 1 start date as the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act — will stretch the capabilities of their staffs, but they are working to find worker training sites and to get education and interview processes going.

“It’ll tax our system,” said Lehan Peters, deputy director of workforce development with Job & Family Services of Clark County. “But I guess we’re small but mighty.”

The food assistance, which used to be called food stamps, won’t be cut off for those who don’t meet the requirement until Jan. 1.

Places for training

In the nine-county Dayton region, 16,426 adults without children will have to meet the work requirement to get aid, according to June figures from the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, the latest available.

Montgomery County had in June 97,819 people on food assistance — almost one in every five county residents. Of those, 9,370 were childless, “able-bodied” adults.

County officials, however, say they’ve already identified more than 1,000 of those adults who are working enough hours already to meet the work requirement.

That leaves about 8,200 adults who will need to be covered and monitored under the new requirements in Montgomery County.

Deborah Hall, assistant director for the county’s social services and income support division, said it will be challenging to gear up for all these people in such a short period of time. Staff, she said, just began training on the regulations earlier this month.

The adult recipients will have to be educated about the requirements, assessed for training and skills, and then offered appropriate work activities or training.

“Our problem right now is ensuring we have the work sites,” Hall said. “We’re still developing slots for this population.”

Those work activity or training slots typically are done in cooperation with nonprofit organizations, said John O’Pry, manager of social service and income support. But they can also include for for-profit businesses that have work available to get individuals the hours they need.

“It can be just about any kind of business,” O’Pry said. “If it’s a cleaning business, they teach them to clean. If it’s a production job, they teach them whatever production they are doing. Whatever the job is, when they do the assignment they are taught whatever the work is at that site.”

Hall said the department would also be looking to put people without high school degrees into GED education programs, which would count against the work requirement.

The task of integrating the new adults into the system right now won’t be easy, she said, because of the Affordable Care Act and the changes it will bring to Medicaid that begin on the same day.

“Those dates are the same, so we will be challenged,” Hall said. “But it’s not unusual in this type of business. We’re always challenged by state mandates. We just position ourselves for whatever comes down from the state.”

In Clark County, where close to 28,000 people — one in every five residents — is on food assistance, officials say they saw this coming, and had started to put a program in place. They’re going to put a lot of emphasis on adult basic literacy and other assessments, Peters said, to find out what the more than 1,800 people who are considered able-bodied without dependents actually need to get a job.

“We have a series of assessment tools where we will be able to sit a person down and determine what skills they have, as well as their cognitive skills,” she said.

Peters said she recently heard Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services Director Michael Colbert say that there are now more than 122,000 unfilled jobs on the Ohio jobs match portal. (As of Thursday, the site,, had more than 125,000 listings.)

“It’s almost an assumption, if you’ve got able-bodied people who are not working or are underemployed, they feel like they’re going to be able to go to work,” Peters said. “We have a different take on this group of people.”

Barriers to work

Many in this population have serious issues that keep them from working, said Steve Ray, supervisor for Workforce Development in Clark County.

“They have quite a few barriers, such as physical capacity, mental capacity, education levels, a lack of work history,” he said.

They can also be homeless or convicted felons, who have a much harder time getting a second chance, he said. Many of the people who come in don’t have health care, he said, so while they should be on medication of some sort they can’t afford it or can’t even see a doctor. And many of them don’t have transportation.

“I think a lot of these individuals fell through the cracks of other programs,” Ray said. “And because of that they are maybe now a little more unemployable than they were. There are also quite a few of them who would be employable if they had work experience or transportation or education or a second chance for a job.”

So, counties across the state often can’t just plug people into jobs, they first have to get them into a position to keep a job.

“With this population, if they don’t have children in the household, really they are left out there to kind of fend for themselves,” Peters said. “So the food assistance for this particular group may be the only assistance that they’re getting.

“Which is why our team is really committed to identifying the need, and taking each person case by case to see how we can serve them and help them get into the employment.”

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