Medicaid Expanded--Barely

The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld Medicaid Expansion in Ohio, but by only a 4-3 margin.  Medicaid survives for another day.   It did not make it through the legislative process, but was resurrected at the obscure Controlling Board.  The process of signing up new people started on December 9 in Ohio by going to http://benefits.ohio.gov/ to apply for expanded Medicaid.  This now applies to nearly everyone living in poverty in Ohio no matter if they have children or if they have a disability.  After the information is verified by a staff person from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, the person will have health insurance.  They will have access to preventative health care, and will not have to rely on emergency room care. 

The problem is that at least in Cuyahoga County it is going to be slow getting people signed up.  The County ODJFS welfare program is busy verifying thousands of people who are facing work requirements in the food stamp program.  Our County has gone above and beyond to interview everyone who faces cuts from the food stamp program to see if they qualify for a waiver.  County officials see the value of having people able to buy food is important for the community, for the grocers and the transportation industry.  The private sector cannot fill the gap left by the billions in the food stamp program.  The welfare department is also dealing with the loss of unemployment extension after Congress failed to agree on a plan.  This is complicating the ability of the department to expand Medicaid in Cuyahoga County.

We have helped sign people up that first week in December that the state website was available, and have heard nothing from the County.  The community groups who focus on helping poor people sign up for benefits are backed up and cannot get to new people until at least January 15.  This is a tremendous opportunity for the community, and we need more people to take advantage of this opportunity.  There are most likely 85,000 people in Cuyahoga County who could benefit from expanded Medicaid.  We need to make this the highest priority to get these people to sign up as soon as possible.   It will revolutionize the delivery of social services in Ohio.   We will not have to figure out disability designations (is this autism or is the depression that could lead to suicide or what percent is the person disabled and will that not allow them to work?) and instead focus on getting the individual well again.   We need to pick up the pace and get everyone eligible signed up for government supported health care after fighting so hard to convince state leaders of the value. 

Brian Davis

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Food Stamp Bad, Worse and Horrible Changes

All Bad News for the Food Stamps Program

Bad:  On November 1, there was a cut to benefits that had been put in effect at the start of the downturn.  This cost each household a small amount of their monthly allocation by about 5%.  This was tough to absorb and we know that Cosgrove and some of the other meal programs have seen a sharp increase in people requesting help with food.  The Plain Dealer had a nice guest column from Daniel Saltzman of Dave's Supermarket about this issue earlier this week, and an editorial condemning the cuts

Worse: By the first of the year, the State of Ohio has decided not to accept a waiver for the local community that was available to exempt the work requirements.  The State legislature has only granted a waiver for six rural communities.  These waivers went into place during the Great Recession when unemployment shot up and people could not find work.   Now, these workers will have to volunteer or conduct work activities for 60 to 80 hours per month in order to get the chump change in food assistance available.  This means that Cuyahoga County will have to interview 29,000 people who receive help to see if they have a disability or some other reason they should be exempt from the work rules.  Some counties are just informing people that they have to do work or they will be cut from the program.  The County has set a meeting to discuss these changes with those who participate in the program next week--details are below:

Cuyahoga Job and Family Services Community Forum
Food Assistance Policy Changes and the Reinstatement of Federal Work Requirements

CLEVELAND –Cuyahoga Job and Family Services is hosting a Community Educational Forum on the new food assistance policy changes and accompanying work requirements, on Tuesday, November 19th, from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.  The Forum will be held at Cuyahoga Community College (CCC) Institutional Advancement Building (formerly VNA), at 2500 E 22nd St, Cleveland, Ohio 44115.

The Forum will educate the community about changes to the Food Assistance Program and the reinstatement of federal work requirements for the population consisting of able bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD).

Registration is online at  www.cjfs.cuyahogacounty.us/.  For information call 216-987-7010.

Disaster:  There are competing proposals at the federal level to cut the Food Stamp program even more.  The Senate is proposing $4.5 billion cut over 10 years which would be rough on the population.  The House has proposed a $40 billion cut over 10 years with a lifetime ban on felons ever receiving food stamp assistance.  So much for rehabilitation.  Any further cuts are not defensible, but a $40 billion dollar cut is a dismantling of the program and an assault on hungry people. 

Cuyahoga County Councilman Dan Brady is hosting a forum next Wednesday to discuss all these changes to the Food Stamp program.  They will have presentations by the Foodbank and the Hunger Network and other advocates in the community.  This is in Council chambers in the Justice Center Wednesday November 20 at 1 p.m.  It is hoped that the County will have a unified voice to oppose these cuts at the federal level. 

Brian Davis

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Congress Takes on Poverty

Congressman and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan hosted a hearing on poverty in America and failed to include anyone currently living in poverty.  NEOCH is in business to provide a voice to those often forgotten by society, and we could have provided any number of individuals to help illustrate the point.  We could have sent a number of our Street Voices speakers such as Don to talk about long term health issues that keep him living in poverty.   The long waits for the state to determine if a person is in fact disabled and deserves government support to keep them in poverty for the rest of their lives is another reason for poverty in America. 

But Congressman Ryan was not looking for an answer to why there are a large number of people living in poverty.   He wanted to make a political point that anti-poverty programs have not worked.  He was interested in showing that cash assistance, Medicaid and food stamps programs are not working.  He would not be interested in hearing from an ex-IRS agent who had her family dissolve and could not find behavioral health care in America.   Most commentators mentioned the symbolism of the candidate who constantly had to explain the 47 percent comment throughout his campaign then hosting this hearing. 

What was the point of all this?  Why host a hearing on poverty and not invite any American actually facing poverty?  The purpose is to drum up support for eliminating the entitlement to food stamps and block grant Medicaid and undermine Obamacare.  It would not be helpful that Raymond, a veteran, would talk about how he will have to work for the rest of his life because he does not have access to any safety net system.  Congressman Ryan did not want to hear from anyone struggling to feed their children with food stamps or the family terrified that their 21 disabled son cannot take care of themselves and will have no where to get help as an adult.  There was no witness called from the senior population who could talk about how they love Medicare and feel that it was one of the greatest government programs ever invented because that would not be part of the Ryan script.  No one testified how great the school lunch program was to provide the proper nutrition to the kids who could then focus on learning.  And there was no one represented who could talk about being able to sleep in a shelter bed in Cleveland despite the increasing numbers because the government stimulus program. 

The anti-poverty programs for the elderly are working because it is so engrained in our society.  Every suburb has a senior citizen assistance department, and to that end we have only a small number of homeless people over 60 years of age.   There is not the level of rural poverty as there was in the 1960s.  The family safety net system is not working and needs reformed, but not the remedy proposed by Congressman Ryan.  We need a dramatic expansion in government support for families to lift them out of poverty.  It was ironic that in the same week fast food workers demanded a higher wage in order to lift themselves out of the need for government support, Congressman Ryan was hosting a hearing to figure out how to make it harder for those same workers to get government help. 

Brian Davis

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Food Bank Expanding to Increase Food Stamp Utilization

The Cleveland Foodbank Help Center is officially open.  They have four new full time staff dedicated to answering the phones, completing applications, and helping community members access a variety of nutrition based and other programs.  The rates of food stamp/SNAPS programs is relatively low considering how many people are eligible for the help.  This is especially true among those who leave shelter who we find only 68% of the families leaving shelter receive food stamps. These services are needed in the region. 

The Food Bank Program is able to direct anyone in their 6 county service area (Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula, Richland, and Ashland) to the pantry, hot meal, or produce distribution site that is closest to their home, through a quick phone call.  They are also able to complete applications OVER THE PHONE for benefits including Food Assistance (Food Stamps), Cash Assistance (Welfare), Medical, Utility, and other programs available through the Ohio Benefit Bank. 

This is the first location in Northeast Ohio to be able to help connect people to these program applications over the phone.  They have trained Benefit Counselors that can help walk a client through the whole process and help them understand and navigate the system.  There are more than 50,000 people in our community that are eligible for assistance and are using the benefits they deserve simply because they don’t know they are available.  The Food Bank staff take calls Monday through Friday from 10am- 4p.m.   This allows us to remove the barrier of transportation and help people navigate the difficult path of asking for assistance.   The Help Center Number 216-738-2067 or toll free at 1-855-738-2067.

The Food Bank can also send staff out to a location to talk to groups of clients/ staff directly about benefits that are available for them.  They can schedule a time to talk to staff at a meeting or a gathering of social workers.  They can pass out flyers or referral sheets about the services available.

For more information on the services go to the Food Bank's website or you can e-mail  Manager of Benefits Outreach, Jamie Sullivan at jsullivan (at) clevelandfoodbank (dot) org.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.