Ohio Voters Believe Welfare Law Should Reduce Poverty

        Ohio’s registered voters choose education, job training, publicly funded jobs, and childcare as their top priorities when considering changes in the nation’s welfare system, according to a poll to be released today, a day before the 1996 federal welfare reform law expires. The U.S. Senate is considering a reauthorization proposal that closely matches the poll findings.

        The poll was conducted by the Triad Research Group for Have A Heart Ohio and the Federation for Community Planning, a nonprofit based in Cleveland. The poll results show strong voter support for families on welfare to have access to education, job training and, childcare as well as to publicly funded jobs when private employment is unavailable. The survey also showed little support among Ohio voters for making marriage promotion or tougher work requirements a high priority for welfare reauthorization.

        The poll also found that a majority of Ohio voters willing to extend welfare benefits beyond Ohio’s three-year time limit in a number of circumstances. According to John Corlett of the Federation for Community Planning, “In a number of instances Ohio’s voters seem more willing to continue benefits than Ohio’s elected state and county officials.” For example, 67 percent would extend benefits for “women who are working at a job but whose earnings are still below the poverty level.”

Education, Training, Public Jobs, and Childcare are Top Priorities for Ohio

        “Ohio’s voters clearly want the U.S. Congress to focus on services that help persons on welfare to move from welfare to work, and in circumstances where jobs aren’t available they think it is appropriate to create public jobs,” Corlett added.

        When asked whether tougher work requirements or expanded job training, education, and childcare should be a priority, Ohio voters chose expanding job training, education and childcare by a nearly two-to-one margin – 61 percent to 33 percent.

        Education and training received broad support from Ohio voters, with 8 out of 10 agreeing that welfare recipients should be able to fulfill their work requirements by taking courses to complete their high school education or by taking job-training programs.

        Childcare is also seen as important, with 7 out of 10 Ohio voters favoring an increase in childcare funding as part of welfare reauthorization. And over half of Ohio voters are willing to pay more taxes in order to increase childcare funding, further evidence of strong voter support for childcare funding.

        In the midst of a continuing economic slowdown, 8 out of 10 Ohio voters also favor creating public jobs for people on welfare who are willing to work, but can’t find employment. But the U.S. House proposal contains insufficient funding for most states or localities to undertake any major public job creation program.

        Fewer than 3 out of 10 Ohioans favor implementing tougher work requirements for people on welfare – a proposal which was part of the welfare plan passed earlier this year by the U.S. House.

Ohioans Cool to Federal Marriage Promotion Proposals

        Increasing funding for programs that encourage welfare recipients to get married receives scant support from Ohio voters. Only 15 percent of Ohioans would spend additional welfare funds on programs that encourage marriage versus 80 percent who would invest those funds in expanded job training, education, and childcare. Only 12 percent think marriage promotion should be Congress’s first priority for the welfare system, and only 14 percent would be willing to pay increased taxes to pay for such programs.

Ohioan Reject Increased Work Requirements

        A key sticking point in the debate over welfare reauthorization is whether work requirements should be increased from 30 hours per week to 40 hours per week. The legislation being considered by the Senate would retain the 30 hour-a-week work requirement. By a nearly two to one margin, Ohio voters think expanded job training, education and childcare should be more of a priority than increased work requirements.

Ohioans Favor Tax Relief for Low-Income Workers:

        Several states currently use federal welfare funds to provide state tax relief to low-income workers. Seven out of 10 Ohio voters would support giving low-income parents a tax break on their state income tax. Nearly 60 percent of Ohio voters would choose state income tax breaks for low-income working families over tax breaks to businesses to encourage economic development.

Ohioans Favor Extending Welfare Benefits for Persons Experiencing Hardships

        Ohio law limits welfare recipients to no more than 36 months of cash assistance in their lifetime. After 36 months, recipients, depending upon where they live, may be allowed to reapply for up to 24 additional months of assistance. Ohio voters seem much more willing to extend benefits further than is currently allowed by either Ohio law or by county practice. Eight out of 10 Ohio voters would extend benefits for women who are caring for a sick or disabled child or other family member. A nearly equal number would extend benefits for women who have physical or mental disabilities that limit their ability to work. Finally, nearly 70 percent of Ohio voters would even extend benefits to those who are working at a job but whose earnings are still below the poverty level – a characteristic that applies to a majority of those women who have left welfare for work.

        The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a bill to reauthorize the 1996 federal welfare law that incorporates several provisions – stricter work requirements, less emphasis on education and training, and marriage promotion – that seem to contradict the opinions of Ohio voters. The U.S. Senate is currently considering reauthorization and Senators Voinovich and DeWine are considered key votes in the federal welfare reform debate.

          Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio November 2002 Issue 57