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Food assistance changing for thousands

10/3/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

DOWNTOWN AKRON — More than 7,000 Summit County residents who had been eligible for food stamps will now need to take part in work participation programs to continue to receive the benefit, according to county officials.

Pat Divoky, director of the Summit County Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS), said the county was notified by letter Sept. 6 that the state’s waiver for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) who were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was to expire Sept. 30.

She added that 16 Ohio counties, all in the Appalachian region, were allowed to continue with the waiver, but Summit County and the rest of the state were not. There are 7,500 ABAWDs in the county, Divoky said.

“We all need to find a way to help our ABAWDs if they need it,” she said.

The Ohio DJFS said federal law states that ABAWDs may receive SNAP for three months in any three-year period unless those individuals work or attend job training for at least 20 hours per week. The 20-hour-a-week requirement is what was waived in Ohio during recent years, but the Ohio DJFS said as the economy improved, the waiver has been removed for most counties.

Summit County DJFS sent letters Sept. 20 to all residents affected by the change and followed that up with another letter assigning each affected participant a scheduled appointment to meet with county representatives at the Job Center on Tallmadge Avenue to be assessed for work programs.

The appointments started Sept. 30, and Divoky said 1,200 were scheduled that day. About 25 percent of those with appointments had shown up, she added later that day. Appointments are scheduled through Oct. 11.

Many of those who are affected by the change will be signed up to participate in the county’s SCOPE (Summit County Occupational Preparation Experience) program, which Divoky said is an in-house work experience program that helps assess participants’ skills.

Divoky said in some cases, ABAWDs could be excused from the work requirement.

“If we can physically see that they are not able to work, we can excuse them,” she said.

Participants were also asked to bring documentation from their doctors to their appointment if they have a physical limitation that would affect their ability to work.

Those who do not go to their appointments will lose their food assistance, Divoky said.

“If they don’t come in, we have to sanction them for October,” she said. “If they miss and they call us or walk in, we will see if they can come back [into the program].”

Since the letters have gone out, Divoky said DJFS has been fielding calls from clients who want to know what they can do about the changes. She added that the past few weeks have been hectic for the department’s staff.

“It’s been a lot of work for us,” she said. “We’ve had to mobilize 40 people on staff.”

Divoky and her staff met with members of Summit County Council Monday afternoon to explain the changes to them, as well.

Councilman Nick Kostandaras (D-District 1) said he’s concerned about the numbers of county residents affected.

“There’s a whole lot of people hurting,” he said.

Divoky said even those who still receive SNAP benefits will be affected by changes in the coming months, as food stamp benefits are set to decrease Nov. 1. The change is due to the expiration of stimulus funds put toward the program, Divoky said.

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