Jones Meets Welfare Activists About Poverty

by Valerie Robinson

        Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor organized a meeting in late summer with Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones at which we presented our October 2002 Anti-Poverty Human Rights Proposal. Representatives were there from various social service organizations, justice groups, and one representative from the E. 18th St. Woman’s Shelter. In attendance from the County were Commissioner Jones; Gary Norton, executive aide to the Commissioner; Betty Meyers, deputy chief administrator of the County; and Jim Corrigan, Ms. Meyers’ aide. The hour and a half meeting was cordial, and Commissioner Lawson-Jones gave us the impression that he would like to work with us.

        Commissioner Jones is especially interested in activist’s idea that a mother whose child is under one year of age should not have to work outside the home, but rather may spend the time with her infant as well as doing appropriate developmental activities. This is in keeping with federal and state guidelines. The infant death rate in Cleveland (a count taken of infants under one year of age in the city of Cleveland) is roughly double that of the nation as a whole. Therefore any move to protect the health of Cleveland’s infants by allowing them to stay with their mothers will be a positive step.

        He was also receptive to the idea of looking at what other counties around the state are doing with regard to hardship policy. Parents and caretakers who endure hardships are allowed to remain on welfare after their time limits have expired, and it is important for the County to have as many hardship categories as federal law allows. Anti poverty activist’s proposal is based in part on the policy of Hamilton County in southern Ohio, and adds six new hardship categories to the four specified by Cuyahoga. It is essential for the County to come into line with other counties like Hamilton. Therefore we were gratified that the Commissioner said that he will consider our suggestions.

        The one area of our meeting that was disappointing was regarding the “good cause” policy of the County, and here we may have to meet with Commissioner Jones again. This is of the greatest importance because of the poverty and unemployment in Cleveland. We are proposing that families in poverty be able to return to welfare for the remaining two years allowed by federal law.

        The 1996 federal “welfare reform” law allowed recipients five years of cash assistance, but low-income families in Ohio were forced to take a two year break after three years of receiving Ohio Works First (OWF) benefits. After not receiving OWF assistance for two years, a parent/caretaker can reapply and become eligible for up to two additional years if it is determined that “good cause” exists. We propose that “good cause” be defined simply as a request for assistance from a family in need. We further recommend that, in this time of high unemployment, there be no requirement for a parent/caretaker to have worked during the two years of not receiving benefits.

        We also discussed policy with regard to the increasing number of children in custody, now numbering 5,800. Our proposal states that “children should not be removed from a family for environmental reasons or as a result of being born into poverty”, and points out that “resolving the immediate needs of a struggling family is far less expensive than the cost of maintaining the child within the foster care system”. The Commissioner said that it was Cuyahoga County practice not to remove children from their families solely for conditions that exist as a result of being in poverty.

        Although this is the professed practice of the County, we feel that a statement enunciating this policy should be formally included in law. We are hoping to have a follow-up meeting with Commissioner Jones regarding these issues.

        Published in the November 2002 Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 57