Our agency is working with the state of Ohio on several initiatives that will ultimately improve the rate of Ohio Works First recipients who are involved in work activities.
Federal mandates require at least 50 percent of families involved in the program have an adult involved in work activities. Ohio’s rate stands at about 30%, making it susceptible to financial penalties.
Hamilton County leads all metropolitan Ohio counties in work-participation rates. As recently as May, the county’s rate hit 48%. During that month, the next highest metropolitan county was Lucas, with a 34% rate. Hamilton County ranks 17th in the state of Ohio, but all of the higher-ranking counties have much smaller caseloads. Their caseload sizes range from 13 families to 244 families. Hamilton County’s May numbers are based on nearly 4,000 families.
Obviously, this is still below the 50% rate. We will work closely with the state to improve our rate, as we require support from state data systems, assistance with timely state hearings and changes in policies and procedures to assist with this effort.
So far, the state has promised to launch a separate Ohio Works program that provides an extra $10 in food benefits to OWF families that are working. This incentive may boost participation rates. The state is also working with counties to change policy so assignment of work activities can occur before benefits are approved and sanction rules will be strengthened. We also look forward to a new web-based tracking system for caseworkers and an online job search and readiness tool for OWF participants. The state has also promised to launch a statewide information campaign around the topic.
Hamilton County long ago began an intense focus on improving work-participation rates. Hamilton County’s improvements have put it in a position where the state holds it out as an example to others. Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services and the Ohio Job and Family Services Director’s Association often ask the county to do training on the subject and work with other individual counties. Additionally, Hamilton County recently led a Southwest Ohio District Summit on the topic and shared its strategies and brain-stormed additional strategies to be utilized within the district.
Helping people today so they have a better tomorrow is the mission here at JFS. I am confident this is a challenge we will not only conquer, but one where our efforts will continue to be recognized as best practice for all counties.