Unforgiving Welfare Sanctions Are Too Harsh

by Lynn Williams

Commentary

On June 23rd, the Ohio Empowerment Coalition’s Emergency Repeal of Sanctions policy was introduced as a bill at the Ohio House. The bill has been renamed the "Welfare Corrections Bill." Rep. Tom Roberts of Dayton and Rep. C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland are the sponsors. Co-sponsors include the following Representatives: Dale Miller of Cleveland, John Bender of Elyria, Vermel Whalen of Cleveland among others.

At the June 23rd press conference which Rep. Roberts and Rep. Prentiss held, members of the Ohio Empowerment Coalition spoke out fervently for the need to change the harsh sanction policy. Some of our members were sanctioned themselves and spoke about the painful ordeal they went through under sanction, scraping by to pay bills. Carla and Jay Pitzinger spoke about what their family went through under sanction. Carla stated, "At no time did a sanction help us become more self-sufficient. It only drove us further into debt. I was punished because I made a decision to miss work a couple days to take care of my disabled husband and my "Special Needs Child." Her husband has a spinal cord injury and is confined to a wheelchair.

Rosalind of Hamilton County spoke about how she has completely given up on trying to get any help from "The Department" because of frustration with all the endless paperwork requirements.

Her sanction first began with not being able to provide a birth certificate for one of her children.

The endless round of red tape frustrated her so much that she gave up trying. She is now scraping by on small jobs and living below poverty level. She and her children receive no supports such as food stamps or Medicaid, and frequently go without necessities of food or medical care. She is fed up with how she was treated by caseworkers. She may be one of the statistics of recipients who leave the welfare rolls for a job (although temporary, unstable jobs that pay below poverty level wages), but nonetheless her life and herchildren’s lives have not improved because of it. A sanction did not move her towards "self-sufficiency."

Rep. Prentiss stated, "The current system of sanctions is unforgiving...We need to remember that the goal of welfare reform is not simply to drive down the number of people on the welfare rolls...The goal of welfare reform is to lift families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. Taking assistance group’s benefits and potentially undermining the quality of life of children whose mothers lose their cash assistance, food stamps, child care, and job training will not accomplish this goal. The only impact will be to further depress recipients and children’s standards of living and undermine our long term goal of success."

The Ohio Empowerment Coalition urges our members and other concerned citizens to continue educating the public and legislators on the effects of sanctions. Please contact us if you yourself have been sanctioned or terminated. Your story will be kept confidential unless you give us permission to share your story with the public.

Editor’s Note: Contact the following OEC member coalition in your area: Contact Center/Cincinnati Welfare Rights Coalition: 513-381-4242 Empowerment center of Greater Cleveland, Showa Omabegho: 216-241-5926

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 in Cleveland Ohio