Poverty Activists Pass Platform to Raise Standard of Living in Cuyahoga County

On Saturday, February 12, 2000, at Trinity Cathedral, The Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland and Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor held a forum to discuss the impact of the state and county efforts to change the welfare system. Out of this poverty summit came an Anti-Poverty Human Rights Platform, for which the groups are currently seeking endorsements from other community organizations.

            Five mothers spoke on the hardships that welfare reform has caused. Debra Skipper testified that after a sanction she became homeless. Yvonne Parboosingh was denied access to child care. Activists, religious and community leaders listened to recipients and commented on the state of our welfare system. Chelly Tufts of South Euclid testified about the nightmare bureaucracy of the welfare system in Cuyahoga County.

            After the lunch, those gathered discussed and passed an anti-poverty human rights platform [see related stories]. Rev. Mark Koenig, of the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, commenting in support of the platform, said that it was necessary to refocus one’s vision in order to understand the need for a fundamental change in society to combat poverty.

            The platform calls for a “family friendly wage,” a limited end to the time limits, a state earned income tax credit, full medical coverage, no sanctioning of food, and placing value on education and parenting. The platform was passed by the over 100 people in attendance. On Valentine’s Day, at the State Office Building on Superior Ave., the platform was publicly unveiled. In a driving snowstorm, 25 activists gathered to call for government leaders to “Have a Heart” and pass the Anti-Poverty Human Rights Platform.

            The statistics that justify the platform show that children are suffering and do not deserve to live in perpetual poverty. By all indicators showing the health and welfare of children, poverty levels, educational levels, contact with the justice system, and incomes, the poor who live in Cuyahoga County are not receiving the benefits of the strongest economy in the history of the United States. With nine months left of welfare for thousands of households in Cuyahoga County, activists intend to gain public support of the platform and seek state-wide implementation.

            State Representative Dale Miller of Cleveland’s West Side attended both the summit and the Valentine’s Day demonstration. He previewed legislation that he is sponsoring to move the time clocks to the five year federal time limits instead of the three years in Ohio. His bill, which is sponsored in the Ohio Senate by C. J. Prentiss, also does not allow food to be sanctioned, and removes a sanction as soon as a recipient comes into compliance. At this time, the family must wait out the term of the sanction no matter when they come into compliance.

Cuyahoga County Anti-Poverty Human Rights Platform

  • End the Time Limits.

            Time limits should end for families with children under 3-years old or households that cannot find employment that pays a family-friendly wage.

  • Parenting is a Full-Time Occupation.

            Effective parenting should be encouraged and supported. The County and State need to support the valuable occupation of raising the next generation rather than support the tragic increases in foster care and the juvenile justice system. The County should place a monetary value on raising children.

  • County-Wide Family-Friendly Wage.

            Every family should have an income to provide a nutritious diet, clothing, safe and adequate housing, health benefits, childcare and other necessities that ensure basic human life free from poverty as put forward in the National Academy of Sciences measurement of poverty.

  • A Moratorium on Further Application of Ohio Works First Rules.

            The 1997 Ohio Works First rules (“welfare reform”) should be suspended until the system is fully in place. This includes certified intensive training of the staff and an independent verification that the system is customer friendly. The draconian rules for OWF started in 1997, but the benefits and operation of the system are still evolving. When the system is in place the child in a family should never be sanctioned. Sanctioning should end as soon as the family complies.

  • Reduce Caseloads for the County Human Service Workers.

            The head of the family needs intensive assistance in order to overcome barriers to economic independence. The County social workers (self-sufficiency coaches) need time to provide proper mentoring to those currently on cash assistance.

  • Education Cancels the Work Requirements.

            Every hour of class time of adult or secondary education as well as higher education equals two hours of work. Research shows that education is one of the key factors to get out of poverty and should be accessible to all low-income individuals.

  • No Sanctioning of Food.

            Food is a basic need and right and should not be part of a sanction for any infraction of the rules.

  • Loss of Assistance Should Not Cause Homelessness.

            Families who cannot find decent safe housing because of a loss of welfare benefits should be provided a housing voucher by the County or the State.

  • Preservation of the Family is Paramount.

            The preservation of the family is the single highest principle for County employees interacting with the family. Loss of cash assistance does not justify the removal of the children from the family. There should never be a complete removal of resources from a family that then triggers the removal of the children.

  • Full Family Medical Coverage.

            Medicaid should be extended to all family members for those making under 200% of the federal poverty threshold.

  • Initiate a State Earned Income Tax Credit.

            Households that earn less than 200% of poverty should be entitled to a state earned income tax credit. Households that earn less than poverty level wages should receive the maximum tax credit allowable in an attempt to lift their yearly income above poverty.

  • What is the State of the Community?

            The State of Ohio requires that an annual report be delivered to the state legislature detailing the impact of the changes in the welfare system on the counties in Ohio. This has yet to be done. A complete study of the impact of welfare reform needs to be devised and put into place.

  • It’s Raining in Cuyahoga County.

            The above anti-poverty programs need to be funded using the State Human Services rainy-day surplus. The children of Cuyahoga County are suffering and do not deserve to live in poverty.

Passed by Participants of the Family Poverty Summit, 2/12/00

For more information call the Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland, Dr. Goldie Roberts, 216-432-4770.

Statistics that Justify the Anti-Poverty Human Rights Platform

  • ·         End the Time Limits.

Between 4,000-6,167 households will lose their eligibility for cash assistance October 1, 2000, with as many as 3,000-4,000 additional by January 2001. Cuyahoga County can exempt 20% of the total caseload from 1999, which is around 4,000 families. There is no debate that families in Cuyahoga County will lost cash benefits and have no income after October 1, 2000.

  • ·         Parenting is a Full-Time Occupation.

According to a 1999 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation on the state of children in the United States, Cleveland is in the bottom third of every category with regard to the health and welfare of children. The juvenile justice system in Cuyahoga County has grown dramatically over the last five years. In 1994, there were 9,003 official delinquency and unruly cases filed in Cuyahoga County, while in 1998 there were 14, 024 cases filed (a 64% increase over 1994 levels).

  • ·         County-Wide Family-Friendly Wage.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development released a study, Out of Reach 1999, the Gap Between Housing Costs and Income of Poor People, which showed that a family had to work 78 hours per week at a minimum wage to afford a two bedroom apartment in Ohio. They found a family needed $10.10 per hour to afford an apartment, up from $9.90 in 1998 and $9.53 in 1997.

  • ·         A Moratorium on Further Application of Ohio Works First Rules.

The letters given to those families sanctioned from cash benefits still do not indicate that the family remains eligible for Medicaid and Food Stamps. The Center on Urban Poverty and Social Change at Mandel Center at CWRU reported in late 1999 that only 48-56% of the families leaving cash assistance continue to receive Food Stamps and Medicaid after leaving cash assistance.

  • ·         Reduce Caseloads for the County Human Service Workers.

            The current caseload for Cuyahoga County Human Service workers is between 80 and 100 clients.

  • ·         Higher Education Cancels the Work Requirements.

Among families headed by African American women, the poverty rate declines from 51% to 21% with at least one year of post-secondary education, according to the U. S. Census department. For white women, the figure drops from 22% to 13% with one year of higher education.

  • ·         No Sanctioning of Food.

Money spent by Cuyahoga County on the Food Stamps program is down 54.75% from March 1994-September 1999. A nationwide study by the Institute for Poverty and Children and Houses for the Homeless found in 1999 that 19% of the children who were homeless throughout the country were hungry while almost all of those children were eligible for Food Stamps.

  • ·         Loss of Assistance Should Not Cause Homelessness.

Houses for the Homeless surveyed homeless families in 24 cities and released a report called Homeless in America: A Children’s Story. They found that 20% of the families surveyed reported that the changes in the welfare system caused homelessness between 1997 and 1998.

  • ·         Preservation of the Family is Paramount.

            The number of foster care and adoption cases has grown by 200% in Cuyahoga County in the last four years. According

to CEOGC, there were 1,700 cases of children in foster care or the adoption system in 1994, with 5,110 in 1999.

  • ·         Full Family Medical Coverage.

National statistics show that if the parent is not covered by the Medicaid system then it is more likely that the child will not receive health-care coverage offered by Medicaid. Again, the Center on Urban Poverty and Social Change found that only 36% of the families who had left welfare in late 1998 or early 1999 had health insurance on the job that they had found.

  • ·         What is the State of the Community?

The Mandel Center on Urban Poverty study reported that after six months of leaving cash assistance, 55% of the families had incomes below the poverty threshold, with 14% of that population living on an income between $0 and $6,567 a year for a family of three. A CEOGC study released in January 2000 found that over two-thirds of Ohio’s poor children on welfare no longer receive any cash assistance. In Cuyahoga County, only 49% of the poor children (age 0-17) receive cash assistance in 1999. According to tax returns, the mean income of taxpayers has decreased in the city of Cleveland, East Cleveland, and Warrensville Heights between 1990-1997 in the face of overwhelming increases (some substantial) in the rest of the County and throughout the nation.

  • ·         It’s Raining in Cuyahoga County.

By all indicators showing the health and welfare of children, poverty levels, educational levels, contact with the justice system, and incomes, the poor who live in Cuyahoga County are not receiving the benefits of the strongest economy in the history of the United States.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine Issue #41 March-April 2000