Welcome to All Event

Thanks to St. Colmans staff and volunteers who came together for this meal.  The NEOCH staff did a great job organizing the dinner that was planned as an alternative to to the inauguration activities.  We did not want to do a protest or demonstration because we are exhausted from the difficult election season.  We did want to mark the radical shift taking place in our country and call attention to those harmed by this hostile rhetoric we heard throughout the debates and even during the inauguration speech we heard earlier in the day.

 We wanted to show that we will welcome immigrants, visitors and refugees from around the world.  Cleveland is committed to being a safe place for people from around the world.  The sign which was made by staff and volunteers said "Welcome All" which was the spirit of what we were trying to accomplish.  There are so many frightened people in our neighborhoods and we wanted them to know that there are institutions in our community who can help.  This may be advocacy organizations like NEOCH or church groups like St. Colmans Catholic Church.   We are a compassionate community built on the hard labor of Irish, Hungarian, Russian, Dominicans, Italians, Syrians and thousands of other nationalities who make this city strong. 

We wanted fragile or communities under threat to know that there are many who are willing to help. We wanted to tell documented and undocumented immigrants that Cleveland will support them.  Our city is losing populations to Florida, Arizona and California.  We need the hard work and innovative ideas from around the world to keep Cleveland moving forward.  After all, most of us have family or ancestors from other places.  We are a young country built by immigrants. 

We came together because we see immigrants as perhaps under the greatest threat.  There was such anger and vitriol in 2016 toward immigrants that we are all going to need to stand up to these threats.  It was a really nice dinner with donations from Giant Eagle and volunteers from both NEOCH and St. Colmans.  Thanks especially Eileen Kelly from St. Colmans for all the work she did to make this a success.  The volunteers and staff are great at doing an efficient and assembly line of food.  They really take care of their hungry neighbors over around Lorain Ave and West 65th St.   We also must thank Denise Toth who spent most of last week preparing for the dinner.  She did everything she could to make this dinner welcoming.  We had games, icebreakers, and music for those who gathered.  We had nice conversations between those who showed up for the food and those who wanted to volunteer.  There were students, social service staff, older folks and elected officials.  It was a good alternative for the tone and tenor of the inauguration speech earlier in the morning.  Thanks.

Brian Davis

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Dana Irribarren Was a Champion for Ending Hunger in Cleveland

I don't have much to do with the whole hunger crowd, but I met Dana Irribarren 20 years ago as she was trying to establish the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland as an independent non-profit as the Interchurch Council was shedding programs.  I was appointed to a committee to work out an amicable solution to this impasse.  Dana was always one of the strongest voices in the community for more attention and money to fight hunger.  She always made the connections to poverty, health care, and public assistance with our citizens being hungry.  There was a hunger advocacy organization in our community in the 1990s which went out of business, but Dana kept speaking up.

We worked together to try to bring some better coordination of food in East Cleveland in 2010, and Dana always showed up to lend her voice when poor people faced the negative impact of budget cuts.  She hired some wonderful staff who did a great job of advocating for additional pantry sites in emerging areas of need.  Dana served on the United Way Emergency Food and Shelter Committee for decades with me.  She was one of the strongest voices for hunger as a justice issue.  She stood up to the powerful while at the same time convincing business and community leaders to collect and distribute food to those struggling. 

There were disputes with the County and regional food organizations that spilled into the media in 2009.  Dana was quick to recognize the difficulties seniors were having last year or the new pockets of hunger in the suburbs during the downturn.  She was really good at telling the rest of us how bad things were getting in East Cleveland or how her volunteer pantry workers were struggling to fill the need in one of the other inner ring suburbs. 

There are so few experts on poverty in Cleveland.  It is so sad to see another social justice champion leave the scene.  I am going to miss Dana and her voice in Cleveland.   Poor people are especially disadvantaged because of the passing of Dana.  This week donate a bag of groceries to your local food pantry in Dana's name or sign up to serve a hot meal at your church or synagogue.  Below is the obituary sent to us by the Hunger Network as it appeared in the Plain Dealer

DANA L. IRRIBARREN (nee Richter), age 62. Beloved wife of 30 years to Alejandro Irribarren; loving mother of Irvin Oslin (Amanda); cherished grandmother of Grace; dear sister of Daniel "Butch" Richter, Kathy Bleich (Fred), and Sandy Barr; beloved aunt and cousin to many.

Executive Director and founder of the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland, she was part of the fight against hunger since 1977; it was her mission and passion. In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate contributions in memory of Dana to The Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland, 614 West Superior Avenue, Suite 744, Cleveland, OH 44113-1306.

Funeral Service Monday, October 19, 2015 at 11:00 a.m. at the SCHULTE & MAHON-MURPHY FUNERAL HOME, 5252 MAYFIELD RD., LYNDHURST (BETWEEN RICHMOND AND BRAINARD) where the family will receive friends SUNDAY 2-6 P.M. Interment Lakeview Cemetery. - See more at: http://www.schultemahonmurphy.com then click on Obituaries to search for Dana Irribarren.

5252 Mayfield Road
Lyndhurst, OH 44124

by Brian Davis

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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

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

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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Cuyahoga County Government Makes Improvements

In 2008 to 2009, Cuyahoga County voters decided to end the Commissioner form of government and backed a charter that included a County Council and a County Executive.  Slowly, we are seeing big changes in the contracting process and how funds are overseen with more transparency.  In April 2012, the County decided to outsource the distribution of hunger dollars to the United Way and the Emergency Food and Hunger Committee that meets to distribute FEMA funds to shelters and hunger centers.  This is a great idea and an example of County Government functioning in a fair and efficient manner.  NEOCH has a board position on the Emergency Food and Hunger Committee, and have often wondered why it did not serve a more prominent role in the community.  They have every expert on food and shelter around the table and are overseen by the United Way.  Their only role in the community and yet all they do is distribute around $800,000 to $900,000 in federal funding to the shelters and hunger programs every year. 

This FEMA allocation emergency services program was begun about 30 years ago when emergency needs began to grow out of control in most large cities.  It was decided that federal funding should be provided to make up the shortfall in demand for shelter beds and food for pantries and soup kitchens.  The formula is based on unemployment in a state and nearly every large community in the United States receives funding.  In exchange for the money, the United Ways in each community had to construct a local advisory to decide on how these funds were to be distributed.  These were mandated to include religious leaders (Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, the Jewish Community Foundation, and other Interdenominational religious groups).  They had to include the Community Action Agency and the Red Cross as well as City and County government.  They also included major foundations, other non-profits, advocates, and a person who has received benefits from the program.  This was always a spectacular group with an exceptionally limited mandate.  The group came up with a fair and equitable distribution of the funds about 15 years ago, and there was not much else that they needed to do except vote on the split of the limited pool of funds.  The United Way administers these funds and takes a tiny fee to do the reporting and distribution.   The program is entirely transparent and has a good process for distributing these funds and selecting which groups in the community receive these funds.  Tax payers should be proud of the efficient and effective use of government funding. It is unfortunate that these funds have seen repeated cuts over the last three years.

Going back to 2009 before the County Government was replaced, there were attempts to merge the two largest hunger organizations in the community and there seemed to be a misunderstanding on the part of government about the role of the Cleveland Foodbank and the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland.  This dispute has gone on for years, and foundations and others have tried to resolve the issue with little success.  Government does not necessarily understand food policies and the exact role of the pantry vs. the hot meal programs and how the Foodbank supports all these programs.  In April 2012, the County decided to outsource their funds of a little over $1 million to the United Way and asked that the Emergency Food and Shelter Board figure out a strategy for distributing these funds with special attention toward meeting emerging hunger needs in Cuyahoga County.   This is a vote of confidence in the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Board.  The board will have two additional members from Cuyahoga County, but will operate in a similar manner that they have operated over the last few decades.  This will maximize hunger dollars in the community.  It is expected for this collaboration to extend through 2014, and for the FEMA Board to make recommendations to the County in early 2013 with regular updates on a quarterly basis.  This is an excellent use of local government funding, and can be a model for other programs.  Having all the experts in the community sitting around a table to decide on the best use of tax payer funding will maximize these dollars.  How do we get the foundations to throw in their money that they spend on hunger into the same pool?

Brian Davis

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Feeding Restrictions Sweep the Country

Both Philadelphia and New York City mayors have announced plans to restict access to food for hungry residents. The Philadelphia Mayor announced in mid March that he was going to try to restrict distribution of food in parks. New York City officials are restricting access to donated food to the shelters. Both these efforts will fail, and we know in Cleveland the pitfalls of trying to bring some order to the chaotic world of food distribution.
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February Links

Photo by Cheryl Jones
A Couple of Interesting Stories

The Huffington Post published an article today about the impact of dramatic cuts on families.  We have seen a sharp rise in family homelessness in both Columbus and Cleveland over the last four years.  The most frightening part of this story was from a young child in Detroit:

“He said, ‘Oh, I’m not eating dinner because it’s my brother’s turn tonight. Tomorrow is my night.’”

The report from the Annie E. Casey foundation found 67% of the children live in concentrated poverty in Detroit.  Michigan has made dramatic changes in cash assistance and dropped 11,000 from the roles.  Over 400,000 are unemployed in Michigan, but only 60,000 receive benefits.

CNN featured an inspirational story about Lamont Peterson and his journey from homelessness to Light Heavyweight world champion. It is nice to see media stories in which homelessness does not seem like a permanent condition.    

The AP is reporting that the City of New York cannot proceed with their diversion plan as we reported previously.   The decision concentrates on the way that the policy was introduced.  The judge did not rule on the merits of the policy at this point.  The City is characterizing the policy as one that anyone can walk in for services whether they need it or not.  The Mayor of New York needs to stay in a shelter for a week, and he would realize that it is not a place where people would volunteer to reside.  This is the final step for most people who have lost everything else. It is an insult for the City to say to a desperate individual that they must impose on their Aunt Rose's hospitality or sleep on the streets.