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Council members debate food stamp issue

10/31/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

DOWNTOWN AKRON — A resolution against Gov. John Kasich’s decision to not renew a waiver to allow thousands to continue to receive food stamps resulted in debate at a Summit County Council committee meeting Oct. 28.

The Health and Human Services Committee recommended Council adopt the resolution by a vote of 4-1 after somewhat heated discussion that began when committee member Gloria Rodgers (R-District 3) said she would not support the resolution.

Rodgers said the waiver to allow able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) to receive food assistance expires next year anyway, so she does not think Kasich’s decision to exit the program a year early is significant. She also noted the governor recently went against the wishes of his party and expanded Medicaid coverage in the state.

“We need to show our support of that,” Rodgers said.

But some members said that isn’t a fair comparison, as health coverage and food assistance are two different programs.

“So I go to the doctor after I starve to death?” asked committee member Tamela Lee (D-District 5) as she debated the issue.

Pat Divoky, director of Summit County Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS), said that it’s true that many people affected by the waiver could be able to qualify for health benefits through the Medicaid expansion.

Divoky also gave an update on the food stamp issue. At the beginning of October, the department contacted and set up meetings with the more than 7,000 Summit County residents affected by the nonrenewal of the waiver to try to get them into other programs to help them maintain their assistance.

The Ohio DJFS said federal law states that ABAWDs may receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits 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.

Divoky said that 2,362 people sought help, and some of them were able to get into programs such as the county’s SCOPE (Summit County Occupational Preparation Experience) program, an in-house work experience program that helps assess participants’ skills.

She added that if more of the people who are slated to lose their benefits had come for help, there probably would have been no way to get them into programs because the funding isn’t there.

“We couldn’t afford to put all these people in the SCOPE program,” Divoky said. “And the jobs aren’t out there.”

Jason Dodson, chief of staff for County Executive Russ Pry, said one of the county’s biggest concerns with the nonrenewal of the waiver is that it’s equal to about $1 million a month in food benefits being eliminated locally, and that translates into less money spent on purchases at local grocery stores. About 5,500 individuals are expected to lose their benefits, and Divoky said they were receiving $189 a month.

“We’re talking about $12 million [a year] being taken out of our local economy that doesn’t need to be taken out of our economy, at a time when we are trying to create jobs,” Dodson said.

In other business, the Planning and Economic Development Committee recommended Council adopt two pieces of legislation regarding online building permit capabilities.

The committee moved forward on a resolution allowing a contract with Bellefeuil, Szur & Associates for Internet software services to allow the online applications for the Division of Building Standards at a cost to the county of $7,485 per year. There would be a $2 fee for applicants to use the online service to pay for the technology. The committee also moved forward on an ordinance that would allow the fee to be charged.

Connie Krauss, director of Community and Economic Development, said there would still be some activities that applicants might have to go to Buildings Standards in person to do, but the online filing would make it easier for many.

The committee also recommended Council adopt a resolution approving submitting the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership Program and 2014 Action Plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Development for funding awards. Among the projects that funding could become available for is a storm water project in Coventry and a culvert project in Lakemore.

Council’s Finance Committee also discussed at length and kept on time a resolution regarding a five-year contract to publish legal notices of sheriff’s sales and other notices in the Akron Legal News. Representatives of the Akron Beacon Journal asked the committee to allow the county to reissue the request for proposals (RFP) and more clearly state that rebates were desired.

Dodson said the county does not want to reissue the RFP because it could set a precedent for other vendors who wish to rebid after seeing what other vendors propose. Some Council members expressed concern that the contract length was excessive and should be shortened.

Council will meet Nov. 4 at 5 p.m. for caucus, followed by the meeting in Council Chambers on the seventh floor of the Ohio Building, 175 S. Main St.

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